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County, Schools to Join Forces on Westover Projects

Residents laud decision to build Reed School and Westover Library in tandem.

>In order to save money and create more green space in the community, the county and the School Board have agreed to collaborate on the design and construction of the new Westover Library and Walter Reed School facilities.

IN THE PAST two weeks the County Board and School Board both signed a memorandum of understanding to develop a joint project, responding to residents' calls for the two bodies to consolidate their efforts.

"We saw that there were potential savings that could happen compared to two projects running side by side," said School Board Vice Chair Mary Hynes.

The county government and the school system were previously working independently on the facilities, despite the fact that they were going to be located only yards apart. But county and school officials re-evaluated their plans after residents at a public hearing last month overwhelmingly called for the creation of a single building.

"We heard from the community and it makes sense to be able to do something together," said Assistant County Manager Ken Chandler. "If we ignored this public sentiment, I’d have to question what we’d be doing as a government."

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 16,000-square-foot library will be built in its place. The library is currently located further up North McKinley Road.

Schools Superintendent Robert Smith has proposed including nearly $12.3 million for the construction of the new Reed School as part of the system's fall bond referendum package. County Manager Ron Carlee has asked the County Board for an additional $8 million for the construction of the library.

IF COMPLETED, the Reed School would house several programs: The Children's School, a daycare 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 school system will spearhead the construction process and will pay 74 percent of its cost, corresponding to the amount of space school programs will use in the new site.

While the agreement obliges the school system and county to collaborate on the project, it does not require a single facility be built. A building review team will assess how best to move forward with the project, said Sarah Woodhead, the school system's director for design and construction services.

All five County Board members voiced their support for one facility during their May 23 meeting. "It makes sense to do a single building," County Board Chairman Chris Zimmerman said. "…It’s possible that it won’t work as well, but I find it hard to imagine" that it would not cost significantly less to the county and schools to construct one facility.

In all likelihood the library and schools space will share heating and air conditioning units and will somehow be connected, said Chandler, the assistant county manager. But it is unclear if putting school programs on top of the library, as some residents have suggested, is the best use of space, he added.

The surrounding community "strongly supports" the partnership because it will maximize green space and cause less disruption during construction, said Bill Braswell, a member of the Tara-Leeway Heights Civic Association.

"We will have a better opportunity to preserve open space and blend [the building] into the fabric" of the Westover neighborhood, Braswell said.

ARLINGTON VOTERS approved funding for the library in a 1998 bond referendum. A joint project was initiated in 2001, but the schools and county ended the collaboration due to divergent funding schedules.

"They were ready to go and we weren't," School Board Vice Chair Hynes said.

The two timelines have converged again, and county and school officials agreed it was best to work in tandem to save costs.

"This is long overdue and we need to move in the direction of getting it done," County Board member Walter Tejada said.