On Thursday, May 14, Alexandria City Public Schools facility staff presented their recommended option for the Patrick Henry School to the Alexandria City School Board.
Architects and ACPS staff considered the recommended option — labeled as New Building Option 2 in the feasibility study — the most accommodating to the Patrick Henry students and staff as it aims to utilize the existing building as swing space during construction and eliminate the need for temporary trailers.
It is also considered the most amenable option to the neighborhood community, as it includes a large swath of green space between the school building and residential houses on N. Latham Street and is set back from Taney Avenue.
ACPS is planning to expand Patrick Henry Elementary School into a preK-8 school for 800 students, thereby adding a second preK-8 option for ACPS middle school students. The school, with 596 students, is currently configured as a preK-5 school.
ACPS student enrollment is currently growing by 4 percent, or 500 students, each year. ACPS needs to provide more than 100 new classrooms to accommodate this growing population in the next five years.
The City of Alexandria is also planning to build a new recreation center on the site at the same time, which would be accessible to the broader community. The goal of the plans is to ensure safe access to the site for pedestrians while making the most of the space and natural environment.
New Building Option 2 shows the bus loop and the majority of parking located off Taney Avenue. Only a small parking lot, mostly serving the recreation center, is located off N. Latham Street. Some have noted that the set-back location of the building helps to give it a suburban feel, as opposed to the urban feel of the renovation and addition option.
New Building Option 2 is also the most economical and accommodating of the options presented to the School Board as it requires no additional swing space while construction takes place. The total cost of the construction is estimated at approximately $38.5 million.
Renovating and building onto the existing school is estimated at approximately $800,000 less, while a renovated building would have a shorter lifespan and take longer to construct than a new school. A renovation option would also require relocating students to swing space off site.
Other possible options for the school include placing it where the existing school is and locating the playing fields off N. Latham Street, or locating the school closer to N. Latham Street and placing the playing fields off Taney Avenue. A renovation option places an addition to the school directly on Taney Avenue.
The presentation of the recommended option is, however, only a starting point. The School Board will discuss the proposed options and listen to views at multiple public hearings before they are scheduled to endorse any of the options at the end of June.
“This is just the beginning of the work the School Board needs to do to accommodate desires within the community while addressing our growing student population. Our goal is to ensure that this is a building that serves our entire community for decades,” said School Board Chair Karen Graf.
Modifications to the original options, including the repositioning of bus lanes and possible location of the school, were a direct response to ACPS staff reviews, preliminary meetings with planning and zoning officials, and public feedback.
None of these options represent a final design. Any concept is likely to evolve over the coming months. The public will be kept abreast of any suggested modifications.
“We have been involved in dialogue with the community for 18 months to reach this point in the process. However, this is only a beginning and we will continue to listen to the Patrick Henry community as this project moves forward,” School Board Vice-Chair Chris Lewis said.
Design work for the project is set to begin this summer pending direction from the School Board. The new or redeveloped school and the recreation center are expected to be ready for use in fall 2018.
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