Old Patrick Henry School Might Accommodate Students While Douglas MacArthur Elementary Gets Renovated

At this point, demolition of the old Patrick Henry school facility has been suspended until early April while all considerations are being explored. The old recreation center will still be demolished to provide a proper flow between the old and new school buildings. (Courtesy photo

By Mary Wadland

ALEXANDRIA, VA-Alexandria City Public Schools is assessing the feasibility of using of the old Patrick Henry School facility as temporary swing space to accelerate the modernization of Douglas MacArthur Elementary School.

ACPS Superintendent of Schools Dr. Gregory C. Hutchings, Jr. and City Manager Mark Jinks have discussed the potential that using the old school would be a fiscally responsible option that could also speed up the modernization of Alexandria’s elementary schools while saving taxpayers up to $60 million. If deemed feasible, the $60 million saved in this project could be reinvested in other school projects sooner and help mitigate rising costs.

The former Patrick Henry school building would be refurbished and used as the temporary location for Douglas MacArthur Elementary School. This plan would allow an approximate two year acceleration of Douglas MacArthur, with design work beginning this year and construction starting as early as 2021.

The modernization of the school — built in the 1940s and with eight windowless classrooms and insufficient space for its 700 students — had been pushed back in the absence of suitable temporary swing space for the students and staff during any rebuild. If the option moves ahead, Douglas MacArthur students and staff would relocate to the old Patrick Henry building beginning September 2020 for up to two years while their own new school is built.

Alexandria has aging school buildings which continue to need maintenance and ongoing repairs. The modernization of Douglas MacArthur would be followed by George Mason Elementary School and Cora Kelly School for Math, Science and Technology within the next ten years. The new Patrick Henry School and Recreation Center opened in January with increased capacity for 900 K-8 students, while Ferdinand T. Day Elementary School and the Early Childhood Center located at John Adams opened in August last year. The new Jefferson-Houston School facility opened in September 2014.

1 COMMENT

  1. Please reach out to parents in the Patrick Henry neighborhood about this. The West End has two over crowded elementary schools, an over capacity middle school, the Minnie Howard Campus, as well as students who attend TC Williams and St. Stephens. The vast majority of these students all walk to their schools. We already have serious traffic and safety problems as it is. Look at the Vision Zero reports and you will see that the West End has some of the highest pedestrian injury and fatality rates. And since the BRAC building opened in Mark Center, we have Waze and other navigation systems rerouting commuters through our neighborhood to avoid the highway. It makes things dangerous for all of the children. Adding another over capacity school into our neighborhood puts children at multiple schools at risk. We lack sufficient traffic quelling, need more crossing guards, and police presence as it is, before adding MacArthur. Adding a whole other school’s worth of buses, parents dropping off/picking up, and staff will make these problems untenable.

    Now, they say that this is only supposed to be for the MacArthur students for a few years. But they also said that the old school was going to be torn down in 2019 and our neighborhoods would have their parks and green space back, which is now being taken away. Children at Patrick Henry will go the entirety of their elementary careers without green space to play on, which, according to many studies, is detrimental to their development and mental health. What is to prevent them from going back on this promise and deciding to utilize that space when they renovate the other schools that need replaced? Not much. We see how promises to the West End are routinely broken.

    Additionally, rushing a decision like this without all the proper impact studies is utterly irresponsible. And the $60 million figure isn’t exactly accurate. It’s just used as a talking point to make them sound like this they are doing a fiscally responsible thing, when really, that remains to be seen, since the studies haven’t been done. Please take the time to read the findings of the Task Force on this. Their recommendation was to find a permanent space to use as swing space while modernizing the elementary schools, then converting it into a school of its own. This is decidedly NOT what they are doing by using a dangerous old building that was supposed to be demolished.

    If you’re going to report on this, do so responsibly by reporting on all sides of the issue, and looking at the public documents on the topic.

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