An unprecedented meeting of the Alexandria School Board, City Council, Planning Commission and Parks and Recreation Commission ended with an agreement that the School Board can look at the entire T.C. Williams/Chinquapin site when considering a design for a new high school.
Dr. Sally Anne Baynard, a member of the School Board, said she was "gratified to hear that everyone is willing to work together."
Officials met at T.C. Williams on Sept. 17 to discuss the site on which the new or renovated high school will be built. Options ranged from looking for a different site for the school somewhere else in the city, moving the football stadium offsite, building only in the current footprint of the school or building a new school on the Chinquapin site, to using some of the current site and a piece of the park.
“I think we can forget about the possibility of another site,” said City Manager Philip G. Sunderland. “While it is possible for us to find 30 acres somewhere else in the city, it would cost us an additional $30 million that we don’t have. For many reasons, I believe that we must look at the site we have and move forward. Now the question is how much of the park is going to be used?”
Mayor Kerry J. Donley offered several “guiding principles” by which the process should move forward. “First, and most important, is the education of our children,” he said. “We must build a facility that focuses on the educational component that has been designed by the schools.”
Next he spoke about cross-utilization of recreation and education facilities. “We have an opportunity here to look at this site as a whole and build a school and enhance a recreation center and make them both serve the needs of the school and the community better.
Structured parking was also a principle. “We must look at structured parking to preserve open space,” Donley said.
He also emphasized the need to design a school that would cause the least disruption to the students at T.C. “While I understand that there will be disruption, we must work to minimize its effect on students who are attending this school,” he said.
Public safety was another consideration. “We must be mindful that our public safety officers must be able to access both the recreation center and the school,” Donley said.
FINALLY, DONLEY spoke about working together. “As we go forward, it is imperative that the school staff and the architects work closely with our parks and recreation staff, the parks and recreation commission and the city’s department of Planning and Zoning in designing both facilities,” he said. “From the city side, perhaps we could bring some resources to the table and hire a consultant with expertise in planning parks and recreation facilities and perhaps even someone that has experience in looking at collocated facilities to work with the school architects.”
Baynard expressed some concern that planning for the site as a whole would require too much time. “We must move forward with building a school,” she said. “While, conceptually, it would be nice to plan the site as a whole, I don’t want us to get bogged down in looking at expanding the recreation center and lose sight of the fact that we must educate children and they are coming.”
Judy Noritake, the chairperson of the Parks and Recreation Commission, does not believe that time is a constraint. “If the schools give us a deadline by which a design must be completed, we can work with them to meet that deadline,” she said. “I don’t think it’s so much about time as it is about agreeing on a philosophy of cross-utilization of the facilities. We have an unprecedented opportunity to design a real center for this city – not a recreation center; not a park and not a school, but a center that incorporates all of those elements into a place that is welcoming for everyone who uses any of the elements.”
Eric Wagner, chairperson of the Planning Commission, cautioned the group about rushing. “While I understand the time constraints, we must consider all of our options,” he said. “We get into the most trouble with citizens when we do not take the time to plan properly. I believe that we must take the time to plan this entire site as best we can.”
NONE OF THE THREE designs was a consensus choice among the group. “I believe that the architects should take these guiding principles that the mayor has put forward and work with the city staff and the Parks and Recreation Commission to come up with some really creative options,” said Councilwoman Claire Eberwein. “I don’t believe that we have seen the best option here tonight, but I believe that we should come up with a few options that incorporate these principles and then take two or three of those out to the community. With community input, we can come up with a design for this site that satisfies the needs of most of those who will use the facilities.”
The next step in the process is a town meeting on Sept. 19, at which the three current plans will be shared with members of the community. Community participants will be asked to comment on these plans. The meeting begins at 7:30 p.m. in the cafeteria at T.C. Williams.