What to Fix?

What to Fix?

Public weighs in on which Arlington schools to repair and/or upgrade.

“Fix it or close it,” said Jack Goodman at a public hearing in front of the Arlington School Board about Jefferson Middle School last week.

Goodman weigh in with arguments for or against spending for Arlington School infrastructure changes during a May 17 public hearing.

IN NOVEMBER, Arlington residents will vote on a school bond proposal to finance construction and design projects. The board will be voting next month on which schools should be part of the bond package.

Goodman noted that an outside consultant had ranked Jefferson’s facilities as the second most in need of improvement of any Arlington school facility.

The staff may be planning to close a middle school in response to anticipated declining middle school enrollments, he said.

“The worst thing for current and future Jefferson students, staff and neighbors would be to string this out and let our inferior physical plant continue to deteriorate until, on short notice, the school is closed a few years from now,” said Goodman, whose son graduated from Jefferson last year and whose daughter will be starting there in the fall.

While Goodman would prefer that the board go ahead with the $61 million renovation believed to be needed, if it chooses not to go in this direction it should instead announce plans to close it.

Beth Wolffe, chair of the Civic Federation’s Schools Committee, called for the School Board to pursue a less aggressive, more fiscally conservative school construction policy.

“Our report recommends that you scale back this year’s proposed bond referendum from $78.5 million to about $55 million,” Wolffe said.

“WE BELIEVE that a $264 million plan with six major projects in five years is too much, too fast in this fiscal environment,” Wolffe said. “Under the plan, our debt service (would) grow from $27 million in fiscal year 2007 to $44 million in fiscal year 2012, an increase of 62 percent. ... We don’t want our ability to pay our teachers and serve our students to be endangered by the amount of debt we have taken on.”

Wolffe called for elimination of the Reed School from the board’s Capital Improvement Plan. Its programs could be relocated elsewhere, she said.

The amount of money for Yorktown High School should be reduced to $50 million in the November bond, Wolffe said. And Wakefield High School should get just $4.3 million in the current school bond. Wakefield and Yorktown should be the board’s only major construction projects in the next six years.

Another speaker called for funding for Wakefield upgrades to be accelerated. Gerry Collins said he had worked at the school for 22 years until recently. It suffers from a poor heating and air conditioning system, he said. Collins is on a leave of absence from the school system currently.

David Haring, president of the Yorktown Civic Association, focused on an aspect of the school system’s plans for Yorktown High School. Current plans for the Yorktown upgrades include too little parking, he said.

The school system is looking at having 220 to 330 parking spaces at Yorktown, said Sarah Woodhead, design and construction director for the Arlington Public Schools Facilities and Operations Department. Higher number of spaces would lead to a sharply diminished amount of open space at the site, she said.

“The amount of parking and amount of traffic is highly correlated,” said Board Member Ed Fendley. Fendley said he had heard from people who expressed concerns that too much parking would lead to too much traffic in the neighborhood.