1701 N. Beauregard, future home to the West End school.
The new West End school doesn’t look much like an elementary school because it isn’t one, at least not yet. The office building at 1701 N. Beauregard, formerly home to the American Diabetes Association, is scheduled to be purchased by the Alexandria City Public Schools (ACPS) for $15 million and retrofitted to become a school for $23.2 million. At a community meeting in John Adams Elementary School on Jan. 17, ACPS officials presented their designs for the new school.
“This is new for us,” said Superintendent Dr. Alvin Crawley. “In negotiation to make sure we involve everyone in the process. We have a community process tonight. Know we have to work with real estate folks … and need to have conversations as we move forward with process. [We] have to make sure we work with the city process. All of that has to happen simultaneously.”
The first four floors of the building will be school space, while the fifth will serve as office space with a currently unspecified tenant. ACPS will also purchase 1705 N. Beauregard and convert the top floor of the existing parking deck into a playspace. In Phase II of construction, a gym will be built onto the site to expand the play area for students.
Chief Operating Officer Clarence Stukes also noted that ACPS had considered leasing the space rather than purchasing, but found that purchasing would save $28 million over 10 years.
The project is not settled yet. The site is under extended review until Jan. 31, when the closing process begins.
Updates will be provided to the John Adams and William Ramsay Elementary School Parent Teacher Associations in April, with a community meeting in May. The principal will be selected in July before the school is scheduled to be opened in August 2018.
Parents at the community meeting expressed approval for the new building, some saying that redesigning office space to become a school was the way of the future for Alexandria schools.
“I’m super excited,” said Justin Rosario, president of the William Ramsay Elementary School PTA. “The schools are super crowded. Last year, my daughter had lunch at 10 in the morning because the school lunch room isn’t big enough for the number of kids they have. The school definitely needs some pressure taken off.”
Rosario says he wasn’t thrilled about being redistricted into the new school, but said he understood the necessity. The new school will have a capacity of 638 students, boosting total K-5 capacity for ACPS to 7612, which still falls nearly 500 seats short of the 8096 students enrolled in K-5 for FY2017.
But other members of the community were not as happy with the new school plans. Some pointed to changes occurring in the West End they did not believe ACPS was taking into account for the new school. Annabelle Fisher said she didn’t believe ACPS’ projected enrollment charts reflected the changing demographics of the area. Fisher warned that many of the current rental units in the West End are being converted into condominiums, which could mean less families with young children as the current residents are priced out of the neighborhood.
Crawley responded: “When we think about our needs for the next few years, we know that we will continue to grow through 2026. When you look at enrollment projections, you see that. Enrollment projections have been about 99 percent accurate.”
While Seminary West Civic Association President Peter Benavage said he agreed with Fisher’s concerns about projection, he also said he was concerned with how the new West End school will impact regional transportation.
“We need a school in the West End, we need the capacity, but I question that very specific location,” said Benavage. “Kids are going to be cutting across bus rapid transit to get into school. Traffic is already [heavy there]. This will be like rolling a hand grenade into the middle of the transportation.”
The city’s proposed BRT line will run right in front of the new school site. The BRT line, first approved in 2012, will create a dedicated bus lane between the Van Dorn Metro Station and the Pentagon Metro Station running through the West End.
“We are asking for trouble,” said Benavage. “What I’ve heard from the School Board so far … is that they are unaware Beauregard is being expanded. As these properties are redeveloped, it will change the type and number of people living here. It will impact the demographics, and I’m not sure anyone knows how. This is another mini-BRAC in the sense that these decisions are made by the left hand and the right hand is not included.”
Crawley said the schools are aware of the BRT issue and are working with the city.