Under a school improvement plan introduced last week, school Superintendent Robert Smith proposed spending $229.5 million to renovate and rebuild Arlington schools over the next six years — $212.9 million of that coming from bond issues.
Over the past 16 years, Arlington voters have approved $297.8 million in bonds, usually by a 75 or 80 percent margin. Presenting his Capital Improvement Plan for 2005-2010 to the School Board at its May 6 meeting, Smith said the schools have “delivered on that which we’ve planned; we’ve planned carefully, and we’ve built carefully. All projects reached fruition.”
Much of the money in the new CIP — $138.7 million, or 60 percent of the total plan — would be spent on massive renovation projects at Yorktown and Washington-Lee high schools. Yorktown is already in the midst of Phase 1 its renovation, funded by $9.7 million in bonds from 2002.
The CIP plan that Smith released last week is $52.2 million less than an estimate of school funds included in the county-wide Capital Improvement Plan released by County Manager Ron Carlee on April 20. That plan budgeted $281.7 million for school construction over the next six years.
<b>PLANS FOR</b> Washington-Lee were due to be passed at the May 6 meeting, but have been delayed by disagreements over details of that plan, including parking space and undergrounding utilities.
Still, School Board vice chair Elaine Furlow said that she expected the board would finalize its plans for Washington-Lee before the CIP approval, due at the board’s June 3 meeting.
“We don’t want ‘squishy’ numbers in the budget,” said Furlow. But “we could end up passing the final Washington-Lee plan on the same night as the CIP.”
Smith’s Capital Improvement Plan would also budget $2.3 million, coming from extra tax revenues this year, for a music program expansion at Stratford High School, home to the H-B Woodlawn Secondary School program.
<b>IN ADDITION</b> to spending on the three high schools, Smith’s CIP also includes funds for a large-scale renovation of Jefferson Middle School, and funds to design a large-scale renovation of Williamsburg Middle School that would begin construction in 2010.
According to school system projections included in the CIP, those buildings are the middle schools most in need of renovation in Arlington.
But the buildings that most need work overall in the county are Washington-Lee and Reed Community Center. Reed, and four other schools that need renovation according to school projections are already set for expansion or renovation under previous years’ improvement plans.
For the Washington-Lee community, the school’s appearance in the CIP comes as a relief, said PTA president Judy Sullivan, after years of hoping for renovations.
“We are thrilled, and we’re expecting this to be approved,” said Sullivan. “You don’t want to count your chickens before they’ve hatched — ever — no matter how much it looks like a done deal.”
Still, she said, “I can’t imagine that anyone would go over to that school, take a look and not think, ‘How come we don’t build a new building.’”
<b>PLANNING FOR</b> the CIP also includes enrollment projections for schools across the county over the next six years. According to APS projections, although school enrollment in Arlington will fall from 18,934 this year to 18,134 in 2009, there will not be a time in the next six years that some county schools will have room for all of their students.
By 2009, four elementaries and H-B Woodlawn will still be facing more students than seats.
“The seats available are not distributed evenly” across the county, Smith told board members. “Areas where there are seats available, there are still issues,” such as the age of the building.
<b>OVER-ENROLLMENT IN</b> the county overall is projected to drop drastically in 2009, when renovations and reconstruction end at Washington-Lee and the rebuilt high school opens.
“This is the major piece out of [the 2004] bond issue,” said Smith. The schools will seek voter approval this November to issue $76 million in bonds, and all but $5.3 million of that will pay for work at Washington-Lee, with another $12.2 million in bonds scheduled for the November 2006 ballot also paying for work at the school.
Splitting the money for Washington-Lee is an accounting trick that only makes this year’s bond look smaller, said Wayne Kubicki, a member of the county’s Fiscal Affairs Advisory Committee. “Approaching it that way is fraudulent. … It’s one project. Whatever the final number is, it should all be on the ballot this fall.”
Work on Jefferson Middle School will be funded by $33.7 million in bonds scheduled for the 2006 ballot, set to begin in 2007. That money will fund renovations to the school, as well as the community center and community theater at the site, home to several local theater groups and the Arlington County Fair — some of that money could come from county coffers, pending further discussions with the County Board.
<b>School Construction Costs</b>
<table border=1 cellpadding=2 cellspacing=0><tr><td><b>School</b></td><td><b>Renovation Cost</b></td><td><b>Bond Funds</b></td><td><b>Year</b></td></tr><tr><td><b>Abingdon ES</b></td><td>$12,235,100</td><td>$11,528,900</td><td>2008</td></tr><tr><td><b>H-B Woodlawn</b></td><td>$2,727,400</td><td>$427,400</td><td>2004</td></tr><tr><td><b>Jefferson MS</b> (plans)</td><td>$2,684,800</td><td>$2,684,800</td><td>2006</td></tr><tr><td><b>Jefferson MS</b> (construction)</td><td>$33,732,000</td><td>$33,732,000</td><td>2008</td></tr><tr><td><b>Washington-Lee HS</b></td><td>$82,810,000</td><td>$70,652,500</td><td>2004</td></tr><tr><td></td><td></td><td>$12,157,500</td><td>2006</td></tr><tr><td><b>Yorktown HS Phase II</b> (plans)</td><td>$2,226,600</td><td>$2,226,600</td><td>2004</td></tr><tr><td><b>Yorktown Phase II</b> (construction)</td><td>$53,632,700</td><td>$40,201,000</td><td>2006</td></tr><tr><td></td><td></td><td>$13,431,700</td><td>2008</td></tr><tr><td><b>Total CIP</b></td><td>$229,467,900</td><td>$212,940,000</td><td>2004-2008</td></tr></table>