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'Work Together,’ Residents Tell County, Schools

Neighbors demand more coordination on Westover Library and Reed School projects.

Residents called on county and school officials to collaborate on the planning of the new Westover Library and Reed School, which are being constructed independently despite being located only feet apart.

By consolidating their efforts and working in tandem, the projects will cost less, preserve more green space on the site and be completed sooner with fewer disruptions to the surrounding community, more than 50 Westover residents told the attending County Board and School Board members during a work session on April 4.

"TO MATCH the needs of the community, and these two facilities, the officials have to work together," said Bill Braswell, the Tara-Leeway Heights Civic Association’s representative on the Reed School’s task force. "We need to minimize the laying down of asphalt and maximize the open space."

Officials in attendance, which included two County Board members and four School Board members, said they were open to re-evaluating their plans and possibly constructing a joint facility for the library and school.

"We definitely ought to be looking at [one building]," said County Board Chairman Chris Zimmerman. "It could be a win-win solution for the school system and county."

The front section of the Reed School, which abuts the Westover shopping district on the corner of North McKinley Road and Washington Boulevard, is scheduled to be demolished and a new 15,000 square-foot library will be built in its place.

The school system will then either renovate the remaining portion of the Reed School or construct a new 50,000 square-foot facility elsewhere on the site.

Once completed, Reed will house several programs: The Children's School, a day-care center for children of school system employees; the Integration Center, which serves toddlers with special needs; Arlington's Teen Parenting program; and two Virginia Preschool Initiative classrooms for 4-year-olds.

THE REED building is one of the county's oldest schools and has fallen into disrepair in recent years. Two recent studies have shown that it is the public schools' facility most in need of renovation, Superintendent Robert Smith said.

For years residents of the surrounding neighborhoods have been looking forward to a new library along Washington Boulevard to serve as an anchor for the commercial strip.

Arlington voters approved a bond referendum in 1998 for the building of both Westover Library and a library in Shirlington. While the Shirlington branch is expected to open this September, the Westover project has been stillborn.

Though design plans for the library have been completed, County Manager Ron Carlee directed his staff to halt planning until an analysis for the Capital Improvement Budget is completed.

During the meeting those in attendance asked representatives of the school system and county why they have been pursuing separate plans for the site.

"The neighborhood looks at this as one piece of land, not a two-part project," said Bill O’Brian, who lives in the Westover community. "So the two of them need to get together and find a solution."

O'Brian suggested that classrooms should be built on top of the library in order to provide more open space.

Constructing a single building would be a cheaper option, residents said, and would mean neighbors would only have to put up with one round of noisy bulldozers and blocked streets.

"To have two buildings, two sites, two architects and two schedules is the most expensive thing possible," said Dennis Dineen, the task force representative for the Highland Park-Overlee Knolls Civic Association. "You might just have to go back and say, ‘let’s start over.'"

School and county officials interviewed after the meeting expressed interest in the one-building option, with Superintendent Smith saying the ideas is "worth investigating."

"WE HEARD a clear desire for a coordinated project," School Board Vice Chair Mary Hynes said. "For some that meant one building; for some it meant compatible architecture. Now we have to go back and talk about what we heard."

Clarence Stukes, assistant superintendent of facilities and operations, said that though the county and schools are working separately on the project, they have been coordinating their efforts as much as possible.

"We know where [the county] is in the process and we have copies of each other's plans," he said. "It's not like we're two ships passing in the night."

In January, the School Board selected an architectural firm to study and design the site. At the meeting last week representatives of Cox Graae and Spack Architects presented four preliminary options for the Reed building.

Option "A" would retain approximately 60 percent of the existing building. Plan "B" would remove the existing school and replace it with a two-story L-shaped building.

The third scheme, called "D," would demolish the current building and construct a D-shaped facility behind the library. The final option, referred to as "E," would place the new school building further down McKinley Road on top of the current basketball court and fields.

Those in attendance unanimously rejected Plan "E" since it would eliminate a great deal of open space. Some residents were intrigued by the possibility of a two-story building--- — which would cost less — or a D-shaped building that would supply the pre-schoolers with a courtyard.

Yet the majority present asked the county and school representatives to go back to the drawing board and return to residents with a more coordinated effort.

School officials are planning to include funding for the project as part of its bond package referendum this fall but admitted that they may have to reconsider their plans after hearing from the community.

"At this early stage it is more important to get the right decision than force it by a certain date," said Sarah Woodhead, the school system's director of design and construction services.