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T.C. Concept Plan Approved

The Alexandria School Board approved a concept plan for rebuilding T.C. Williams High School that will now begin winding its way through the city's planning process.

The Board voted to support the concept plan on Jan. 23, but asked the architects to spend the next 30 days looking into the feasibility of using "green" construction techniques, or plans that are more environmentally friendly.

"We are very interested in looking at what is realistic in terms of cost and what is proven technology," said Molly Danforth, a member of the Board's Facilities Committee. "I recently went to a green building exhibit at the National Building Museum. There are some things that have been tried and work. I would like to see us do the things that we can but not try anything that is experimental in a school."

The Green T.C. movement got a boost after a forum last week. Architects and planners described the various ways in which sustainable construction techniques have been used successfully. They showed examples that ranged from a home in Bethesda, MD, to a skyscraper in New York City. "If you begin planning for the use of sustainable construction at the beginning of a project, there is no reason not to use these methods," said William Reed, an architect and environmental consultant with the Green Building Council.

David Peabody is the leader of Alexandrians for Green T.C. He said, "In 2006, when the new T.C. is completed, high performance schools will be the norm," he said. "It only makes sense. They are healthier for children; they have been proven to increase learning rates; lower energy costs save money for city budgets; and they conserve non-renewable resources. We cannot as a community afford not to build a green T.C."

WHAT IS FEASIBLE will be a matter of cost and what can be done with an old structure as T.C. will not be completely rebuilt but will use parts of the current school. "The architects are supposed to come back to us in 30 days after they have looked at all of the elements of a green building," said V. Rodger Digilio, another member of the Board's Facilities Committee. "There are many things that I believe we can certainly do such as diverting the storm water that flows through the large drain that is in front of the building into a cistern that would be underneath the school. This storm water could then be used to water all of the fields at T.C. and Chinquapin.

"We could also have a gray water plumbing system at T.C. so that toilets would use storm water that would then go into the sanitary treatment system. I would think that this would help our compliance with the Chesapeake Bay Act and would be environmentally responsible."

Sandra Whitmore, the director of the city's department of parks recreation and cultural activities agreed. "We will certainly look at ways to use sustainable construction in the design of Chinquapin," she said. "It is much harder to retrofit an old building than it is to build a new one. We are absolutely committed to doing what we can in this area."

Chinquapin and T.C. are being jointly planned, at least in part. "We certainly have come a long way in jointly planning this site over the past three months," said Mayor Kerry J. Donley. "We have some outstanding issues to work out but we are much further along than I thought we would be at one point."

Matthew Bell, the city's architect on Chinquapin, explained some of the reasons for jointly planning the facilities. "First, it is more cost-effective," he said. "Joint programming also allows for both facilities to be smaller than they would if planned and programmed separately. Joint use allows for the school to expand some of its programs and for the recreation center to expand some of its programs. Each facility would have a separate entrance but they would be connected so that students could move from T.C. to Chinquapin during the day to use the pool and other facilities.

"In looking at a number of these joint facilities, the key to success is a clear agreement about use," he said.

WHITMORE SEES the value in joint planning as well. "T.C. students will have a competition-size pool that they do not now have and will be able to use our aerobics rooms and other facilities," she said. "We will also have team locker rooms that can be used for swim meets.

"Chinquapin users will have a walking track, a gym that they can use during the day and seniors and adults will also have a leisure pool that will be warmer for use by those with arthritis. We will have a lounge for seniors and multipurpose rooms that can be used for adult programming during the day," she said.

Some Council members are concerned about some issues still outstanding such as parking. The school system has just completed a preliminary parking study that indicates the need for 622 parking spaces. However, the study was conducted on a Wednesday this month between 7:30 a.m. and 5 p.m. It did not look at the needs of night school or special events.

The concept plans for Chinquapin and T.C. call for various options that range from using surface parking to using structured, above-grade parking to using underground parking. Decisions about parking will effect the design of both buildings.

The city's planning staff will now begin working with the T.C. and Chinquapin architects to identify and resolve areas of concern. While many on the School Board would like the school to open in the fall of 2006, the Planning Department has told them that this is not a realistic goal. The more likely date is 2007.