School Superintendent Rebecca L. Perry went to Maury Elementary School to discuss the various options for handling the renovation of the school and listened to concerns from parents and staff.
"It continues to amaze me how well the rumor mill works here in Alexandria,” Perry said to the nearly 100 people who came to the meeting in the Maury cafeteria on Tuesday night. “Let me just make one thing very clear before we go any further…I have no plan to close Maury. One of the options that we are considering is moving the children for one year while we renovate the school, but that is only one of the options that we are considering. We are not planning to close this school.”
The extensive renovation and construction has been planned since 2002, and was originally planned to begin in the fall of 2003. However, city and state code requires that sprinkler systems be installed in schools with space of more than 20,000 square feet.
“Once we decided to sprinkler the entire building, the facilities committee decided that we should renovate all of the classrooms and upgrade the cabinetry, the lighting and the ceilings,” said Mark Krause, the supervisor of design and construction for the school system. “That means that the part of the building which was not originally scheduled to undergo construction will now be impacted.”
THE CURRENT PLAN, which is scheduled to go before the planning commission in March, according to Krause, calls for renovation and expansion of the media center, construction of additional classroom space to replace the trailer currently onsite, construction of dedicated music, art and science/TAG classrooms [talented and gifted], relocation and expansion of administrative offices to enhance building security, upgrades to make the building handicapped accessible, and expansion of playground for primary students.
A sprinkler system, fire alarm/security system and onsite stormwater management system to comply with the Chesapeake Bay Act are required by city code.
“If we move the children to another location, we can complete the work in one school year,” Krause said. “Phasing the construction will take until January of 2006.”
Phasing would also require that trailers be located on the playground. “While we would minimize the noise and the disruption to students as best we can, there will be noise and disruption,” Perry said. “We want to continue the good work that is happening here at Maury and we need to upgrade these facilities. Whether people admit it or not, they are attracted to a school that has a nice building.”
A THIRD OPTION, which the superintendent does not favor, is accomplishing the construction over three summers. “We simply don’t have the resources at Central Office to do this,” she said.
Parents expressed concern after listening to the superintendent. “The plans for the new building look wonderful,” said Laura Rhodes, a parent. “I think that all of us look forward to upgraded facilities. But, I don’t want to see my child moved to a different school to accomplish this. I would be willing to put up with the disruption of the construction rather than the disruption of having my child moved to a different school.”
Jeanette Chisolm, a teacher’s aide in special education, asked, “Why does this have to be done now?” “Why can’t we postpone this for a year until we have accomplished the goal of improving the students’ test scores. We are in the middle of a two-year improvement plan. Can’t this wait until that two years is over?”
Perry responded, saying, “I want everyone to understand that parents at Maury will once again have a choice about leaving this year because we are in the second year of Title I improvement,” she said.
This year, parents were given the option to remove their students from Maury because the school failed to meet the federal NO Child Left Behind guidelines. Only about a dozen students were moved but that option was not given until August when most parents had made their arrangements for the school year," said Perry.
A parent who did not identify himself responded to Perry, saying, “I don’t believe that I have heard any parent say that they removed their child from Maury because of the building,” he said.
John Sprinkle asked about putting all of the students in trailers during the construction. “Since we are going to have a trailer village, why not just use all of the playground and keep the children onsite,” he said.
ACCORDING TO THE architect, the cost of a trailer is about $35,000 per classroom. This would add about $500,000 to the cost of the project.
“I asked about this as well,” Perry said. “I think there isn’t enough space, though.”
Parents and teachers alike told Perry to look at all other options than moving the children. “Where would they be moved,” asked Margaret Janowsky, another parent.
Perry said that Jefferson-Houston had been considered but was now off the table. “We are looking at Mt. Vernon because they have space and we are also looking at moving whole families to different schools,” she said. “We would move teachers with students, though.”
Parents will be informed about their school choice in the spring. The superintendent’s staff will identify the schools that have space for Maury students who wish to move. As to the construction, the decision will be made by the School Board some time this spring.