Arlington The Arlington County School Board and County Board met Thursday, Jan. 17, for a work session about the construction a new elementary school at the site of Williamsburg Middle School.
The school is part of the county’s capital improvement plan to deal with overcrowding in its public schools. [Related story, page 2.]
The location was chosen because it is on the border of northwest and northeast Arlington, where the overcrowding is currently worst.
PDFs of the presentations used for the work session are available at http://www.boarddocs.com/vsba/arlington/Board.nsf/Public. Click on the link to the Jan. 17 meeting in the side bar and then on the “view the agenda” button.
The project is two months behind schedule, and elementary schools can only be opened during September, so construction costs will rise in order to ensure that the school is opened by the September 2015 deadline. Chair of the Building Level Planning Committee Leslie Paul said that the delay was caused by expanding the traffic study beyond its original scope based upon listening to feedback of residents of 36th and Harrison streets.
“A lot of time and money has now been spent to analyze what boils down to a 15-minute period of traffic flow,” Paul said.
The design principles for the new school are meant to take into account transportation and environmental factors, including making the school easy to access by means other than a car and the use of design strategies for energy conservation.
For its traffic studies, the school board hired Toole Design Group based on previous work with the group and its national experience in working with multimodal transport.
To keep the elementary school traffic from overlapping with middle school traffic, it was suggested that each school have a different start time.
The proposed start time for the elementary school is 9 a.m., and the start time for the middle schedule is currently set to remain at 7:50 a.m.
Other potential changes include prohibiting left turns from Harrison onto 36th street during arrival and dismissal because many students cross at that point.
The pickup and dropoff driveway is recommended to be on 36th and at the southwest corner of the site.
Proposed improvements to the traffic situation that could be enacted by this spring include adding turning lanes at Williamsburg and North Harrison and a crossing signal or traffic light at Williamsburg and Kensington.
Some members of the community think having a stoplight would be safer, but, according to the county’s transportation engineering chief, Wayne Wentz, the delays on those roads aren’t severe enough for county regulations to warrant one.
As a measure to see how the turning lanes would affect traffic flow, the county decided to stripe Williamsburg and North Harrison.
The audience for the work session had mixed feelings about how the project has been handled.
“I’m very impressed with the work that’s been done and the presentation,” Maywood resident Michael Beer said. “I’m very disappointed that we’re behind schedule because this is going to cost the taxpayers significantly more money because of increased construction costs.”
Lynn Pollock also thought matters could have been handled better. “The initial picking of the site needed a lot more transparency, a lot more openness and a lot more discussion,” she said. “And, they’ve tried very hard to fix that since that point.”