The Arlington School Board has decided to renovate the deteriorating west wing of Washington-Lee High School rather than make stop-gap repairs while the fate of Washington-Lee and the two other county high schools is studied.
Because of declining school enrollments, the board has said it plans to consider consolidation of the three schools. However, board members say that study will not be completed for several years.
Before the decision at its meeting last week, some school and county officials contended that no major improvements should be made at Washington-Lee until a committee could be appointed to study the consolidation issue.
Washington-Lee was built in 1924 and is the oldest high school in the county.
The decision to renovate the 28-year-old west wing came on a 3-to-2 vote with board Chairman O. U. Johansen, a former principal at the school, casting the deciding vote to a burst of applause from Washington-Lee boosters.
An architect's preliminary study estimated that the renovation would cost $2.2 million, but board members Ann Broder and Evelyn Reid Syphax, who voted for the renovation, said they thought the estimate was inflated.
The motion for the renovation carried a proviso that costs would be determined later. The school staff is to present a cost estimate in November.
Board members Claude M. Hilton and Torill Floyd opposed the renovation, preferring that an estimated $400,000 in repairs be done gradually over the next three years.
"I don't think (renovation) is defensible when we don't know what's going to happen with consolidation," said Floyd. "I think we can do a great deal of upgrading without spending (the architect's $2.2-million estimate) and by phasing (improvements) in."
"I can't vote for improvements of this kind when we're considering closing schools," added Hilton.
"In the meantime, there is an equity argument here," Broder said. "The kids at Washington-Lee should be provided with equipment and learning facilities comparable to those in the other two high schools."
Broder added that while she doubts Washington-Lee will be closed, "the building should be kept in top-notch shape" in case it is needed for other school or community uses or put up for sale.
Added Superintendent Larry Cuban, who favored the renovation, "There's no question in my mind that the facility is going to be used, whether it's for school or community use."
The board's vote followed some impassioned pleas for renovation instead of repairs and graphic descriptions of the state of disrepair in the west wing. The wing houses the science labs, home economics department and some physical education facilities.
"We're getting to the point where major overhauls have to be done to continue the (education) program there at all," said Shirley Palansch, a member of the Washington-Lee project planning committee, which found that the building does not meet many of the current state and county codes.
In other action, the board:
Endorsed a letter to the U.S. Department of Education from the Metropolitan Area Boards of Education opposing an Education Department proposal that would require school districts to adhere to specific federal guidelines in teaching bilingual students.
The letter contends that local school systems should be allowed to use the bilingual programs that work best in their districts. Superintendent Cuban, noting the variety of bilingual teaching methods in the county, said the federal plan to require a certain form of instruction would be "unwise."
Voted to notify the county board that the proposed $43.3 million the county expects to contribute to school costs in the next fiscal year is "inadequate." The funds would represent a seven percent increase over this fiscal year.
School board Chairman Johansen said the proposal would leave only $2.5 million to spend on salary increases, program improvements and major purchases. m
Each one-percent increase to the salary schedule, including employe benefits, costs almost $400,000, Johansen said in a letter to the county board, although Johansen did not say what he expected the percentage increase would be.