Over the years, Arlington voters have supported school projects overwhelmingly in bond referenda. But as plans progress for renovations to Washington-Lee High School, residents and school board members alike are anticipating conflicts between the interests of the school and the county as a whole.
“This is a tremendous decision for the county, way beyond a decision for the school board,” said Peter Harnik, who lives nearby.
Planning the future of one of the county’s three high schools is a big enough decision on its own. But when school staffers brought up the possibility of putting a new building at Quincy Park, the issue took on new life.
It’s early in the planning process, but it’s already controversial. “Quincy Park is potentially a critically important piece of parkland for Arlington County,” said Harnik.
School board member Elaine Furlow said school staffers have shown a “clear prejudice” toward constructing a new building at Quincy Park. But Furlow said that option would present “a number of serious issues” for the board.
BECAUSE QUINCY PARK is county property, those issues would extend beyond school officials and would require a cooperative land-use plan between school and county officials.
School board members will consider two other options for Washington-Lee, and are expected to approve a task force this week to provide recommendations.
Option one calls for demolition of the oldest classroom wing and construction of a new 52,500 square foot addition to the remaining structure, which would also undergo renovation.
Option two proposes a phased demolition and reconstruction that would result in an entirely new building on the current site.
If school board members vote for option three, the Quincy Park plan, the existing Washington-Lee building would be demolished and converted to park land after the new building is completed.
CENTRALLY LOCATED in Virginia Square, Quincy Park has attracted the attention of neighbors and county officials who see it as one of the few pieces of undeveloped land in one of Arlington’s most densely populated neighborhoods.
Plans currently underway threaten to complicate the situation even more, said Lew Gulick, a former Washington-Lee parent who worked on the Virginia Square Sector Plan.
If school officials plan to relocate Washington-Lee to the park, site plans already on file with the county could complicate matters, he said. Lots surrounding the park could be redeveloped with highrises that threaten normal school activities like bus dropoffs.
Traffic conditions near that block could also change, and Gulick asked school board members to be aware of those possibilities before making decisions regarding Washington-Lee.
But Gulick, like Harnik, suggested school board members may not be able to make the best decision on their own. County board members should place a moratorium on site plan approvals in that area, said Gulick.
County board members have not officially weighed in on the future of the park and the school, but at least one member said he will keep a close eye on the planning process. County Manager Ron Carlee has met with school Superintendent Robert Smith to discuss plans.