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Plan to build school on Arlington parkland draws protests

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Advocates for open space in Arlington are organizing a campaign to quash a proposal by the Arlington School Board to build a new elementary school on parkland next to Thomas Jefferson Middle School.

“The school board voted to take land purchased for parks and pave it for parking lots and new buildings,” Jim Presswood, a leader of an advocacy group, said in a statement Tuesday. “This was not what voters wanted when they approved park bond issues.”

Members of the advocacy group, called “Friends of Thomas Jefferson Park,” said that the proposal would limit access to green space and playgrounds and possibly playing fields and running trails. They hope to convince county supervisors to oppose the school board’s plan.

The school board on Monday night approved a 10-year construction plan that includes expanding capacity on the elementary, middle and high school levels to keep up with growing enrollment. The plan includes a request for a $105.8 million bond referendum.

Nearly half of the request, or $50 million, would go toward the construction of a new 725-seat elementary school on the fields next to Jefferson Middle School.  The board called it its preferred option, but said a final determination would be made jointly with the County Board in January, following a community review process. 

The school board’s alternative plan would be to build additions onto two existing elementary schools in the southern part of the county. That option would cost about the same amount and yield fewer seats, about 500. The schools that would undergo expansion have not yet been identified.

Arlington Public Schools is struggling to keep up with rapid enrollment growth and to find land for schools in the densely populated inner suburb. Below is a graph that shows current, past and projected class size and indicates how enrollments have ballooned in recent years. The most recently graduated classes are in gray, the current classes are in blue, and projected incoming classes are in green.