Last week, ACPS began a conversation with the community around the new West End School. When I was running for a seat on the School Board, the sitting School Board had begun the redistricting process as a way to alleviate the capacity issues in ACPS. However, it was soon apparent redistricting alone would not provide the requisite capacity relief because the system as a whole was over capacity; simply moving students from one school to another would not solve the problem.
Although a couple of the schools in the ACPS system have been rebuilt in the past 10 years, no new school has been added to the system since Samuel Tucker Elementary opened in 1999. Since that time our elementary student population has grown significantly and we currently have an elementary seating deficit of 1,122 seats. Enrollment projections, which have been more than 99 percent accurate in recent years, tell us that growth will continue at all grades levels. A new West End elementary school has become a critical need.
The lack of available open space in our dense urban environment meant the superintendent and the School Board needed to be open to creative solutions. This ultimately led to pursuing the option of buying and retrofitting an existing commercial building. While the original plan was to lease the building the savings associated with purchasing instead are compelling, $28 million over 10 years or $64 million over 20 years.
Some may question using a commercial building for a school, as I did initially. However this is an emerging trend in urban/suburban environments. Several school systems around the country already have such a school or are considering it. When touring Fairfax County’s Bailey’s Upper Elementary School last year I often forgot I was in what was formally a commercial building. The only reminder was the natural light. It was far more abundant than any other school I’ve seen. The new building has similar lighting and I’m sure will be just as impressive when the conversion is complete. In the meantime, we ask the public to work with us to make this project one that our West End students and families can be proud of.
School Board Vice Chair