Your View: We applaud Crawley, but more work is still needed on school capacity

Your View: We applaud Crawley, but more work is still needed on school capacity

By Yvonne and Brian Folkerts, Nancy and Marc Williams, Brooksie Koopman and Mark Eaton, Alexandria (File photo)

To the editor:
Schools Superintendent Alvin Crawley should be commended and supported for his proposed fiscal 2018 10-year capital improvement program budget, which proposes solutions to the continuing capacity crisis at all grades in our public schools.

The changes from last year’s CIP in the critical area of secondary school capacity are dramatic. This year’s proposed CIP offers a comprehensive solution for the capacity crisis at T.C. Williams by including a new building for the Minnie Howard campus. In contrast, last year’s approved CIP included only a 10-classroom addition at Minnie Howard — a project publicly described as a “Band-Aid” and inadequate by some School Board members, City officials and others.

One positive aspect of this year’s approved CIP was that the Minnie Howard work was to be done over the current and next fiscal year. Next year’s proposed CIP, however, would not start architectural and engineering work for the new school on the Minnie Howard campus until July 1, 2018. Actual construction will begin, at the earliest, in the summer of 2020 and will be completed in 2024 at the earliest.

The proposed CIP projects the 2020-2021 school year enrollment for high school grades at 4,425, or a deficit of 876: T.C. Williams’ King Street capacity is 2,766 and Minnie Howard’s capacity is 883. These projections compel the request for funds for trailers, but also confirm that a summer 2020 start for construction at Minnie Howard is too long to wait.

Even the best trailers are an awkward and temporary solution. The inevitable disruption to students and staff of the continuing capacity crisis followed by construction should not be drawn out more than is absolutely necessary.

If the new secondary school at Minnie Howard has a ninth grade and optimistically assuming that it opens in 2024, the new school will serve today’s second graders.

The school board and city council should work together to close the gaps in the proposed CIP and enable the architectural and engineering work on the new Minnie Howard building to begin on July 1, 2017 — a full year earlier than now proposed — or as soon thereafter as possible. No public infrastructure investment yields as much to a community as a new school because the return on investment is in human capital — the education and welfare of our children.

Closing the gaps which allow the start of architectural and engineering planning work for Minnie Howard in 2017 will show that our elected officials are serious about supporting Crawley’s bold vision for our secondary schools. We encourage the school board and Crawley to move the funding in the proposed CIP to close the gaps. School board members will vote on the proposed CIP in December.

Crawley’s proposed CIP for the secondary schools and modernization of the elementary schools may cause elected officials and City and ACPS staff to say, “We can’t do everything at once.” However, because of the capacity crisis at T.C. Williams we can and must do several big construction projects simultaneously.

The proposed CIP creates significant project oversight responsibilities over the next several years. We elect a school board, not a construction board. The secondary school capacity crisis may compel new and different contracting and project oversight arrangements to get the work done. The Minnie Howard project is an opportunity for collaboration between ACPS and city staff, the retention of outside experts, or both.

Crawley pointed the way forward to solve the capacity crisis. We should follow his lead promptly and begin architectural and engineering work for T.C.’s new Minnie Howard campus in the summer of 2017.