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Votes

10 Schools to Get Face Lift

Capital plans approved by school board include funds for complete reconstruction of Washington-Lee.

Plans approved by School Board members last week call for the renovation, or in some cases, complete reconstruction, of 10 schools, along with two child care centers and the county’s career center.

But the board’s vote was not a blank check to begin construction — much of those funds depend on how $203 million of school bonds fare on three different ballots.

In a unanimous vote, School Board members approved a $228.3 million, five-year Capital Improvement Plan for Arlington Public Schools at their June 3 meeting. The CIP includes funds for the construction of continuing renovations at Yorktown High School, renovation of Jefferson Middle School and a completely new school in place of Washington-Lee High School.

The CIP approved by the board cut $1.2 million from the $229.5 million CIP originally proposed by Superintendent Robert Smith. They also cut $9.9 million from bond money that would have required voter approval.

Much of the cut bond money, however, was instead funded from current revenues, tax money collected by the county and paid to the schools under a revenue sharing agreement, but above and beyond funds required during the current school year.

Still, voters will see a larger bond on the ballot this November: $78.1 million, up from the $76 million originally planned for 2004 bonds. Much of the change comes from increased funds for Washington-Lee.

<b>BOARD MEMBERS HAD</b> only approved a final schematic for Washington-Lee minutes before approving funding for the project on the CIP. The two votes addressed a long-standing need at the school, said PTA president Judy Sullivan.

“After a while, you can’t do anymore patching,” she said. “You say, ‘We’ve got to fix this thing.’ If anyone goes over there, there wouldn’t be a doubt in their mind that this is necessary.”

The high school’s current home was originally built in 1924, and expanded bit by bit over the 1930s, 1960s and 1970s, with renovations of some areas in the 1980s. Three years ago, a renovated stadium and track reopened.

Discussions over the school renovation meant that the old building had to make do a little longer, said Clarence Stukes, assistant superintendent for facilities. “This is the culmination of a long process.”

Still, Sullivan acknowledged there was some question about funding for Washington-Lee, bonds for which must still be approved by voters in November. “It ain’t over ‘til it’s over,” said Sullivan.

<b>AT $80.6 MILLION,</b> Washington-Lee is the big ticket item on the CIP.

The schematic approved by the board would replace some of the school’s sprawling campus, built piece by piece, with one building incorporating classroom space, an auditorium, gymnasium and swimming pool.

That four-story, 117-classroom building on northwest corner of the school site, bounded by Stafford Street and I-66 — just north of the stadium and track.

The new 330,000-square-foot high school would be built in two phases. Phase I would include demolition of the current auditorium and some classroom space, with construction of the four-story building, adding new classroom space, taking place over that area and current student parking lots.

The school will include almost $4 million in environmentally friendly features, such as raingardens to filter pollution from rainwater, and water-conserving fixtures. School board members said that money would be more than repaid in savings over the life of the school.

Phase II would demolish the current cafeteria and kitchen, auto shop, art and music space and some current classroom space. That would make way for construction of the new auditorium, gymnasium and pool. Following completion of those areas, the rest of the current Washington-Lee would be demolished, making way for field space. Construction on the project would be completed by January 2009.

“This is the first total high school we will have built in Arlington since Wakefield,” said School Board Chair Frank Wilson. Last November, Wakefield celebrated its 50th anniversary.

<b>AS PLANS FOR</b> the high school progressed, the price tag grew, and it took up more and more funding for 2004 capital improvement.

That prompted some protests from parents who hoped to see work at their schools sooner than later. In Smith’s proposed CIP, funds for Jefferson Middle School would have become available through bonds on the November 2006 ballot.

At a May 20 public hearing on Smith’s proposal, Jack Goodman, president of the Jefferson PTA, urged board members to find money to look at renovating the school before 2006.

Board members appeared to agree, including footnote funding for Jefferson in their final CIP, with money coming from surplus tax revenues from the soon-to-end fiscal year.

The board also addressed some criticism of the proposed CIP by putting all work on Washington-Lee before voters this November. In Smith’s proposed CIP, the project would have been funded by bond funds this year, and in 2006.

“Approaching it that way is fraudulent,” said Wayne Kubicki, a member of the county’s Fiscal Affairs Advisory Committee. He accused Smith of splitting the funding to make the price tag for the school look smaller.

“It’s one project. Whatever the final number is, it should all be on the ballot this fall.”

In the final CIP, all funding from Washington-Lee will be decided this year. But voters will only have to approve $72.7 million for the project — the other $8.8 will come from the school system’s existing revenues.