Filling in the Blanks: New West End school first in 17 years – now it needs a name

Filling in the Blanks: New West End school first in 17 years – now it needs a name
Ramee Gentry is chair of the Alexandria City School Board.

It has been seventeen years since our city opened an entirely new school. The last school to open was Samuel Tucker Elementary in 2000.

Much has changed in Alexandria since then, and one of the biggest changes has been the explosion of our school enrollment

Since the opening of Tucker, there have been a number of additional significant rebuilding
projects at our existing schools: T.C. Williams High School, Jefferson Houston School and now Patrick Henry School.

The planning and preparation for these projects takes many years, and often begin under the leadership of one school board, with the baton passed to a subsequent school board to see them through to completion.

Though I have not yet served one full term on the school board, I am proud and excited to be able to witness the full development process of a new school from start to finish — the new elementary school we will open for the 2018-19 school year at 1701 Beauregard Ave. on the city’s West End. The rapid evolution of this project is the culmination of hard work from many individuals and strong support from our community.

School enrollment projections jointly developed by planning staff from the city and Alexandria City Public Schools have been confirmed year after year, and show an ever-expanding need for additional school capacity. As our Redistricting Review Committee proceeded with its work, it became clear to both staff and community members engaged in the process that the creation of an entirely new school on the West End would be essential to any redistricting process.

The challenge was now one of space and time. In our dense urban city, there is little available land for a school site. In addition, the need to alleviate capacity had reached a critical state, and the longer timeline that a completely new construction project would have entailed would not have addressed our capacity needs in adequate time. Fortunately, there was a solution that solved both of these issues: converting an existing office building into a school.

This creative reuse of office space has proven very successful in many
communities throughout the country, including Bailey’s Elementary in neighboring
Fairfax County. ACPS was able to secure vacant office space at reasonable expense, and can convert the building into a fully operational school — complete with rooftop playground — in less than a year.

As a resident of the West End, I have witnessed many exciting development plans for this vibrant part of our city. I’m excited that ACPS is part of enhancing the quality of life for those living and working in the West End. We invite all of our new neighbors to follow our progress this year, as we begin our renovation and develop our staff and programming for our new school.

Those interested in following the progress of the new school, and in helping us make decisions around the programming, should attend the next community meeting at 6:30 p.m. on October 11 in the media center at John Adams Elementary School, across the street from the new school.

In addition, the school board is looking for Alexandria residents to serve on a committee that will recommend names for the new West End elementary school. Get involved at: news/?p=7041

The writer is chair of the Alexandria City School Board.