Changes in Store for Wilson School, Career Center

Changes in Store for Wilson School, Career Center

A group of Arlington citizens makes recommendations for the future of several school properties.

Arlington Public Schools (APS) should open up the site of the Wilson School to development and should add a third story to the Career Center according to a report being issued by the Multi-Site Study Committee later this month.

The committee, made up of school officials and representatives of local community groups, was assembled by the Arlington School Board to examine how it can maximize revenue from its underutilized properties while maintaining educational, historical and neighborhood integrity.

Several school properties were examined but the most radical changes were proposed for the Wilson School and the Career Center.

The Wilson School, located on Wilson Boulevard in Rosslyn, was built in 1910 was named after President Woodrow Wilson. The APS-owned building is considered an Arlington landmark but has not operated as a working school since 1972.

Instead, the building is used for various community activities such as a Mongolian school that operates out of the Wilson School on Saturdays. Frank Bellavia, an spokesman for Arlington schools, said the building is used as a "swing space" for when a school has to transfer out of its building, as Tuckahoe Elementary recently did.

The Multi-Site Study Committee reviewed several options for altering the Wilson School property to generate more revenue for the school district. One called for the razing of the building but was rejected after public outcry.

The option favored by the committee was to lease part of the property to a private developer who would use it to build a recreational facility. The committee also decided that the original Wilson School building should be maintained and rehabilitated.

"The Wilson School will generate income," Jim Whittaker, the chair of the Multi-Site Study Committee, said. He said that the committee recommended that the school lease part of the Wilson property so that it can gain revenue without giving up any of its assets.

Stan Karson, president of the neighborhood association in which the school is located, was a member of the Multi-Site Committee. He said that he was glad that the committee recommended that the Wilson School should be maintained.

"At least four of the [options] said that the school would be demolished," he said. "[But] we made changes so that the school could be preserved."

THE STUDY COMMITTEE ALSO CONSIDERED the future of the Career Center, located on South Walter Reed Drive.

The Career Center provides vocational training to students from all over the county. It offers students the opportunity to take classes and receive licenses in technical areas such as automotive repair, cosmetology, aviation and carpentry.

One of the options before the Multi-Site Study Committee would have moved the Career Center to the Wakefield High School campus. This didn’t sit well with some community activists who felt that placing the Career Center at the predominantly African-American and Hispanic Wakefield would further discourage its students from pursuing higher education.

Linda Beverly, founder of an Arlington advocacy group for the parents of African-American schoolchildren, was opposed to this option.

"It will make [Wakefield] more isolated and more separated," she said. "Most of the kids who are enrolled in the Career Center never go to college. I just think [moving the Career Center to Wakefield] is not an appropriate thing to do."

The committee agreed with Beverly and instead chose to leave the Career Center where it is and add another floor to it.

"Right now it’s only two stories but it needs to go to three," Whittaker said.

He also said that the committee recommended the Arlington Mill Continuation Program, an alternative high school designed for at-risk students, should be moved to the Career Center. This would allow Arlington Public Schools to lease the property where Arlington Mill currently resides.

"APS should not sell any of their land, or only as a last resort," Whittaker said. This was one of the Multi-Site Committee’s guiding principles in making the decision.

THE MULTI-SITE STUDY COMMITTEE was created by the School Board to be an advisory group. It will issue its findings to Superintendent of Schools Robert Smith in a report that will be released at the end of this month.

Smith will then present this report to the School Board, which will ultimately decide what should be done with the properties.

"It’s obvious that the school [wants] a maximum of revenue from whatever they do," Karson said. "They certainly need [it]."