Arlington residents got their first glimpse at plans for a possible expansion of Arlington Public Schools' facilities, including additional classroom space, a wrestling room and an auditorium, during a special community engagement meeting Monday.
About 60 people attended the meeting.
The APS Board of Education was seeking the public's input to address the district's needs. However, board members and representatives from DLR Group, the agency hired to assess the district's facilities, stressed that plans and costs were only conceptual.
“I don't want you to think that just because we have these plans back here that this is a done deal,” Pat Phelan of DLR Group said. “This is far from that. It's just trying to graphically show you some ideas of how some of these issues may be addressed.”
Phelan said feedback from residents would be used to refine the options or look at other potential options before the board finalizes a plan.
“We can't take the next step without your permission,” he said. “This is your school district. It's not the school board's, it's not the administration's and it's certainly not mine. We're here to answer your questions and we're here to help you ask the right questions.”
The proposed plans offer construction in four phases as additions to the existing 150,000 square foot building or the potential for a separate new elementary school.
The current site is landlocked with space to grow to the west. However, that green space is also used for a variety of activities, including practice fields. One parent questioned if that space was lost, where would those activities go.
“That's a serious concern because that's not just our practice field and our recess area for our kids, we are really aware that that's also AYS' practice fields for soccer, football and lots of other things going on,” Supt. Dawn Lewis said.
The first phase plan would include the addition of 13 elementary classrooms to allow for three sections and lower class sizes. The second phase would include a wrestling room, locker rooms and new band and vocal spaces. Those additions could cost $7 million and $7.7 million, respectively.
The third phase, which Cody Hillen of DLR Group called a “wish list” item, includes an auditorium that would cost about $5.9 million.
A few additional classrooms could be added in a fourth phase for $1.8 million.
“The real big question is how big can this building get before we say no more,” Phelan said.
Rather than add onto the existing building, Hillen said the district could build a new elementary school off site. It could start as as PK-1 building, with additional wings added later to create a PK-6 building.
The total cost for a new elementary building would be approximately $21.6 million.
One resident brought up a concern of parking if the additions are completed and suggested maybe a new elementary building would be the better option.
“That's the lump in your throat reality when you start adding onto this building and looking at our footprint here,” board president Matt O'Daniel said. “Enrollment grows, that housing development pops in here, where do we park all these cars? Just me, as a board member, looking at these plans and I think there are a lot of signs pointing us to a separate structure.”
APS' enrollment is growing at a 2 percent rate each year. As of Jan. 1, enrollment was 712 students. Only 15 years ago, enrollment was 583 students.
“Without students you don't have a school district,” Phelan said. “The fact that you are growing as a school district, that's a great thing. It's great for your community, it's great for your school district.
“You are growing very slightly and slowly, very incrementally and you can plan for that,” he added.
Farmers expressed their concerns of the costs and higher taxes.
One farmer, using the analogy of expanding his farming operation and buying the necessary equipment, suggested the district wait until it actually needs to expand and not based on projected growth.
“Why would we plan now for the future? I think this is a long-term project,” O'Daniel said. “I certainly can appreciate the idea of buying equipment you need when you need it. That's good business. We're talking about building structures and educating kids and how to fund this thing. That's a longer term process so by the time we get done talking about this, my feeling is these kids are going to be here ready to come into our district. We're trying to stay ahead of this curve. Frankly, that's our job as board members.”
However, O'Daniel added, at this point the district is not seeking a bond issue.
“We're not here tonight to ask you to jump on board with one plan or another plan,” he said. “It's meant to be a reality snapshot of where we're at with the district today, where we are going forward and what our needs — facilities and capital — will be going forward.”
Though all of the plans were offered, O'Daniel said it is not necessarily good for the community to do them all at once.
“But we can't stick our heads in the sand either and not do anything,” he said.
The slideshow presentation and plans are available on the district's website, apseagles.org. The presentation was also broadcast on AHS Striv.
Conceptual costs for potential expansion at Arlington Public Schools
Addition to existing building
Phase 1: 13 elementary classrooms
Phase 2: Wrestling room, locker rooms, band and vocal rooms
Phase 3: Auditorium and new activities entrance
Phase 4: Additional classrooms
Estimated total: $22.4 million
New elementary building