Your Views: Patrick Henry treatment is unfair

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Students entered the new Patrick Henry School for the first time on Jan. 22. The new school building is part of a larger joint development between the city and schools and includes a new commu- nity recreation center. (Photo/ACPS)
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To the editor:

This is in response to your April 11 editorial, “Space for a swing,” in support of the Alexandria School Board’s decision to use the abandoned Patrick Henry building as swing space for the students of Douglas MacArthur as that school is rebuilt. The decision may well be the appropriate one; there are strong arguments in favor of it. However, the decision-making process was flawed in the ways I see other city processes are flawed, and your editorial exemplifies several of those flaws.

First, you claim that the Patrick Henry community and neighborhood were “asked” to take on the sacrifices necessary for this project. I don’t know to whom you spoke here, but I have found nary a person who does not believe the decision had already been made by staff before the community was informed and its interests were gathered.

Why might residents have that impression? Well, as with other initiatives, once the community’s interests were identified along came the campaign to refute or diminish them.

“The impacts are only short term.” “The impacts don’t outweigh the greater good that our studies already prove.” “Those people are: (take your pick) whiners, NIMBYs, complainers.”

In the end the decision is made with vague promises to consider options for mitigating the community’s concerns. It’s as if citizens, taxpayers by another name, are regarded more as impediments to rather than stakeholders in city government’s plans.

The Times adds a new wrinkle by comparing the impacts on the Patrick Henry neighborhood against the impacts being imposed on Old Town and Del Ray residents by changes there – and finding them wanting. Ah, the old “starving kids in China” ploy to get us to swallow what is good for us. Is that the Times’ proposal, that the impacts of city initiatives on any neighborhoods within Alexandria be weighed against the impacts on Old Town and Del Ray before they deserveconsideration?

But the Times in this comparison does show a typical Alexandria government approach to change by pitting the interests of one stakeholder group against the other. In the case of the stadium lights at T.C.Williams High School it was the interests of students v. the interests of the Woods neighborhood.

Is Alexandria so bereft of resources and creativity that we cannot honor all major stakeholder interests and seek mutually agreeable solutions serving all to the greatest degree possible? Is it always either/or and never both/and?

The Times editorial dismisses perceptions among some that wealth bias was at play in ACPS’ pursuit of the swing space option. I don’t know. But the optics of asking a school mostly of students of color from lower income neighborhoods, including many immigrant families, to absorb a four-year sacrifice to serve the “greater good” of a wealthy city, especially in 2019 America, should evoke some sensitivity. I have seen none. If there were, the school board’s decision would have included greater defined mitigation plans for Patrick Henry rather than promises to think afterward about ways to help offset their sacrifice.

Yes, Alexandria Times, you admit the decision stinks for Patrick Henry. But the process made it even worse than it needed to be. Judging by the reader comments I regularly read in our two city newspapers, that’s regrettably nothing new in Alexandria. Parts of our city government need to understand that they serve us, not rule us.

-Tom Suydam, Alexandria

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