Our View: What’s the rush

Our View: What’s the rush
Torpedo Factory Art Center (File photo)

Two important decisions with significant long-term implications for Alexandria are being rammed through the city approval process with minimal public input and arbitrary timelines.

The first deals with resolving the capacity crunch at T.C. Williams High School and the second with whether the City of Alexandria should permanently run the Torpedo Factory.

To which we respond: Why the hurry?

It’s vastly more important to make the correct decision, after alternatives have been thoroughly vetted, than to push through a quick decision. When the latter happens, it’s oh-so-tempting to do what’s easy rather than make the correct long-term call.

It’s been apparent for several years that T.C. Williams and the Minnie Howard campus in their current configurations are not big enough long-term for Alexandria’s high school-age population. They’re already overcrowded.

After new superintendent Dr. Gregory Hutchings, Ed.D., took over this summer, a process centered on programmatic offerings rather than brick-and-mortar solutions was launched, with the goal of making a decision by year-end. At last week’s school board meeting, Hutchings, after being prodded, admitted that satellite campuses were the administrative team’s preferred choice to carry out the programmatic plan.

We think this “programs-first” approach was geared from the start toward not building a second high school, despite ACPS statements that a new school was on the table. If a second school was a serious option, ACPS would have presented detailed data regarding potential sites around the city and their attendant costs.

It’s not acceptable to blithely say with a wave of the hand that there are no suitable sites for a second high school in Alexandria without actually doing the work to identify, and then eliminate if necessary, potential locations.

During the just-completed election campaign, incumbent Margaret Lorber, who was re-elected, and incoming member Michelle Rief both cited studies that indicate students perform better in smaller schools than in mega ones.

This project is too important, and the implications are too far-reaching not just for ACPS but for Alexandria as a whole, to ram this decision through so quickly – particularly given that alternative brick-and-mortar solutions apparently weren’t even considered.

We agree with student school board representative Ewan Thompson, who said the incoming board should make the decision. And that decision needs to include options for a new school.

The timeframe for considering the Torpedo Factory’s future is even more compressed and less transparent. Why, two years into a three-year “temporary” contract to manage the Torpedo Factory, does the future of this facility need to be decided in less than two weeks?

City Manager Mark Jinks notified stakeholders on Nov. 6, the day of the General Election, that the city wanted to retain permanent control of the facility, scheduled a presentation to city council for Tuesday’s legislative meeting and docketed the issue for Saturday’s public hearing. Whew – and why?

This is simply not an adequate timeframe to consider an issue this important, particularly given the many concerns artists have raised with the Alexandria Times in the past week.

For starters, artists shared documentation with the Times indicating the city is spending more than $500,000 annually on one part-time and five full-time employees, plus temporary staff, to run the Torpedo Factory. Many to most are performing functions that previously were done for free by volunteers.

Torpedo Factory founder Marian Van Landingham said it’s clear to her that city officials still don’t understand what the Torpedo Factory is – an artists’ workplace open to the public – and what it isn’t – a museum.

Perhaps most upsetting, the city ignored a proposal from the Torpedo Factory Artists’ Association last year that described a path forward to return the institution back to artist control. And now we have the city manager’s attempt to fast-track a permanent city takeover.

Council needs to resist this unseemly power grab and ensure that a decision is made only after all sides have been fully heard and all proposals publicly considered.