Your View: The need for and ingenuity of the new West End elementary school

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By Cindy Anderson, Vice chairwoman, Alexandria City School Board (File photo)

To the editor:
Last week, Alexandria City Public Schools began a conversation with the community around the new West End elementary school. When I was running for a seat on the school board, the sitting board had begun the redistricting process as a way to alleviate the capacity issues in ACPS.

But 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 district have been rebuilt in the past 10 years, no new school has been added to the system since Samuel Tucker Elementary School opened in 1999.

Since then, our elementary student population has grown significantly and we currently have a 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 grade levels. A new West End elementary school has become a critical need.

The lack of available open space in our dense urban environment meant Schools Superintendent Alvin Crawley and the school board needed to consider creative solutions. This ultimately led to pursuing the purchase 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. But this is an emerging trend in urban and 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 a retrofitted 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.

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