Alexandria's new high school should be green, a group of parents and residents say. Not that they care what color the building will ultimately be.
But as architects begin drawing up plans for a new building to replace T.C. Williams High School, about a dozen people have formed a group, Alexandrians for a Green T.C., to lobby the School Board to adopt an environmentally healthy design that would conserve water and energy, release fewer toxic fumes and provide a comfortable work environment. The group has about 150 families signed up, said member Ken Naser.
Noting neighboring Arlington County's work to promote environmentally healthy buildings, the group thought Alexandria's only public high school should become a showcase of sustainable architecture, Naser said. He said such a school building also could serve its students as an object lesson in the merits of preserving the planet.
In the last two weeks, the group helped persuade the Alexandria School Board to include sustainable architecture among its considerations in building a new school. In approving a site plan, the School Board also included a provision that calls for developing an environmentally progressive building, so long as potential cost also is factored in.
"The board is very open to this idea," Alexandria public schools spokeswoman Barbara Hunter said.
The group, along with the Alexandria PTA Council and the Alexandria Environmental Policy Commission, also will hold a "green forum" at 7:30 p.m. Jan. 22 at the Minnie Howard School at 3801 W. Braddock Rd. The public forum will present aspects of sustainable architecture that apply to school design.
The grass-roots effort came together this fall. A few e-mails went around, then an ad hoc group of Alexandria residents formed to lobby the School Board, and now it's official. The green building movement also seeks to make sure that the people who live and work inside are in comfortable quarters with ample light, fresh air and efficient air circulation.
"The principal said, 'Thank God someone is thinking about this. We're sitting here and one part of the building is 90 degrees while the other part is 40 degrees,' " Naser said.
Housing Nonprofit Celebrates Done Deal
Money exchanged hands, deeds were signed over, and backs were slapped as an affordable housing organization recently concluded the purchase of the Gates of Arlington, a 465-unit garden-style apartment complex in the historic Buckingham area between North Glebe Road and North Thomas Street.
The deal, helped along by Arlington County, was hailed as a significant public investment in preserving affordable housing in a Northern Virginia suburb where anxiety has been rising as fast as rents and property taxes.
The Gates, built between 1938 and 1942, is home to a diverse population of about 1,200 residents, most of whom are low- and medium-income tenants. Many are newcomers to the United States.
U.S. Rep. James P. Moran Jr. (D-Va.), an executive from the nation's largest source of home-financing mortgage, and several county officials congratulated AHC Inc. on its purchase at a ceremony last Tuesday.
"We own it now. It's ours," AHC spokeswoman Catherine Bucknam said.
Last spring, when word got out that Texas-based Hall Financial Group was looking for buyers, county officials and the nonprofit community got cracking. County Manager Ron Carlee even threatened to invoke the county's right of eminent domain -- a polite phrase that means government seizure -- to persuade Hall Financial to come to terms.
AHC, with financial backing from the county and the Federal National Mortgage Association, closed on the $35.5 million deal Nov. 27. In exchange, the nonprofit intends to rehabilitate the 43-building, 17-acre development and preserve housing for people who earn 60 percent or less of the median income. In the metro area, median income for a four-person household is $91,500.
All of the units are to remain affordable for at least the next two years, Bucknam said.
The Gates is the largest project that AHC has ever led. The 501(c)3 organization, which cannot make a profit but cannot lose money either, also took over Woodbury Park's 364-unit development about 15 years ago.
To purchase the property, AHC assumed the previous owner's mortgage of about $21 million, said John M. Welsh, AHC director of multifamily housing. To make up for the gap, the county put up $5.5 million in its capital funds, $1.9 million from its Affordable Housing Investment Fund, and lined up $10 million in credit from Fannie Mae's American Communities Fund.
Under the terms of the existing mortgage, the property cannot be refinanced for another two years. After that, AHC plans to seek refinancing to repay the county, which does not have an ownership stake in the property. It is not clear whether some units will have to be let at market rates to defray the cost of rehabilitating the property and subsidizing the affordability of some units, Bucknam said.