Schools Superintendent Alvin Crawley proposes new T.C. Williams campus

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Schools Superintendent Alvin Crawley proposes new T.C. Williams campus
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By Chris Teale (File photo)

Schools Superintendent Alvin Crawley proposed an ambitious plan to solve Alexandria City Public Schools’ capacity crunch by 2027 as he unveiled his capital budget proposal last week.

Under the plan, between the 2018 and 2027 fiscal years ACPS would appropriate $515.7 million on projects to expand capacity, including renovations at Douglas MacArthur, George Mason and Matthew Maury elementary schools. It also would add a new elementary school — in addition to the proposed new West End school using retrofitted office space — as well as build a new middle school.

The most dramatic aspect of the plan would be to completely demolish the Minnie Howard campus of T.C. Williams High School and replace it with a building for ninth and 10th graders, adding 717 seats at a total cost of $118.5 million.

“This is an aggressive budget. This is a budget that reflects a sense of urgency,” Crawley said. “We’ve heard repeatedly from our parents … of the importance of having the requisite learning spaces, those optimal learning environments, whether they are small spaces, whether they are classroom spaces, gymnasiums, auditoriums, or playing fields. Our students deserve the very best that we can give them.”

In data provided by ACPS staff during the Alexandria City School Board’s October 27 meeting, the system is serving 15,354 students during fiscal 2017, compared with a capacity of 14,036. This seating deficit of 1,318 is set to grow quickly based on ACPS projections, with 17,982 students projected by fiscal 2027, for a seat deficit of 3,946.

Enrollment at ACPS is anticipated to rise by 4 percent each year, and is not expected to plateau until 2030.

Crawley said this proposal was put together with the knowledge that enrollment will keep growing. The number of English language learners is among the highest in region, the level of special education programming is consistent with other school systems and the number of students that receive free or reduced lunches also is among the highest in the region, a figure that is expected to increase.

The proposed West End elementary school — a retrofit of office space on North Beau- regard Street — will add 638 seats and is slated to open in fall 2018. Preschool centers at John Adams Elementary School and Cora Kelly School for Math, Science and Technology would add nearly 600 seats, and 10 new classrooms are proposed at Cora Kelly for an additional 221 seats.

A modernization and rebuild is planned at MacArthur to add 221 seats, while George Mason’s rebuild would add 232 seats. Crawley said the new middle school would allow all three middle schools — including George Washington and Francis C. Hammond — to have a maximum of 1,200 students, while the ongoing Patrick Henry School project will add 234 seats at the middle school level.

At Minnie Howard, Crawley also proposed temporary classrooms to add 150 seats by fiscal 2022, before the full rebuild. Crawley said a feasibility study is underway on the future of the campus.

At a forum for school board candidates in the run-up to last year’s election, several candidates mentioned that the then-seventh grade class — now eighth grade — will not have enough space at the campus on West Braddock Road when it reaches high school.

A new elementary school, with the design phase proposed for fiscal 2026 and construction in 2027 at a total cost of $45.1 million, would add 600 seats at the elementary school level and eliminate the system’s seating deficit entirely, officials said.

The capital budget assumes there will be no expansion of ACPS pre-K offerings, but maintains current class sizes at the elementary school level, as approved by the school board. Crawley said such a plan is ambitious, but necessary.

“If you put all these projects together, clearly they will address our seating capacity deficit,” he said. “They move us forward with our pre-K commitment and also will address some of the short-term issues we have right now related to crowding.”

Crawley acknowledged that getting such a plan approved by city council will be a heavy lift, given that councilors appropriated less than $274 million to ACPS for its fiscal 2017 10-year capital budget. But he said by working with the community, city council and private partners, solutions can be found.

“This is a long-range plan designed to solve all of ACPS’ capacity issues within the next ten years and beyond,” he said. “There is no doubt that this is a dynamic and aggressive plan that can only be achieved with the support of our community and city council.

“We all need to work together to create school facilities that foster vibrant learning, equitable access to academic programming, and a strong foundation for our community.”

The school board will weigh in on the proposed capital budget at three work sessions later this month, and city council is expected to offer its guidance on the level of schools funding on November 9. A public hearing on the capital budget is slated for December 1, with two add/delete sessions to follow for the school board. Adoption is expected on December 15.

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