After 77 Years, Douglas MacArthur Elementary School Begins Full Modernization

ACPS kicked off the modernization of Douglas MacArthur Elementary School this week. The current building will be demolished at the end of the school year in June 2020 and rebuilt with additional space to accommodate its growing student population.

Douglas MacArthur, which was briefly known as the Chinquapin School during its construction, opened its doors in 1943 to accommodate the families of those recruited to work at the Naval Torpedo Factory. It was integrated into the city’s public school system in 1947 and went on to educate all four of President Gerald R. Ford’s children.

While some of its history will be integrated into the new facility, the building itself will undergo a complete modernization and will be redesigned for the 21st century. DLR Group — an international award-winning architecture, engineering, planning and interiors firm that specializes in educational facilities — has been selected to design the new school building, which the community has already expressed interest in being innovative and community-focused.

DLR Group, which has designed more than 800 elementary schools, has raked in awards for their designs from around the nation, including two of the three finalists in the 2019 James D. MacConnell Award for Pathfinder Kindergarten Center in Washington state and Canyon View High School in Arizona. Canyon View High School went on to win the top prize. One of the senior architects responsible for the Pathfinder Kindergarten Center will be the senior architect on the Douglas MacArthur project. DLR Group also won the 2019 Public Building of the Year award for the Good Hope Neighborhood Recreation Center in Maryland. The firm is number one in educational design, according to an international industry survey, and number one in K-12 design, according to a national trade publication.

At the kick-off community meeting on Wednesday evening, the project team from DLR Group provided a project overview and led the audience through several exercises to identify their hopes and concerns. They asked the audience to identify things the community valued as well as things they are ready to let go.

The community, staff and students will continue to meet with DLR Group’s project team and designers throughout 2019 and into the early part of 2020 to help shape the vision for the future school. The most important visioning session for the community will be held on Saturday, November 9 from 9 a.m. to noon at the school.

The war drew thousands of workers to Northern Virginia to work in New Deal agencies, defense plants and the military, but there was a lack of housing. To address this, the Public Works Agency of the federal government created two housing developments in Alexandria: one at Chinquapin Village on the site of the current Chinquapin Recreation Center to house workers at the Naval Torpedo Factory, and one in Cameron Valley, located at the junction of Duke Street and Yale Drive to house Army Corps of Engineers workers. The elementary school was built for children of these employees and for children living in the area off Janney’s Lane. Chinquapin Village children walked to school through Forest Park.

The original Douglas MacArthur Elementary School was built on six acres abutting Forest Park. It had eight classrooms and a common room. Desks cost $6 each. Teachers’ desks were $25.

President Gerald R. Ford bought land and built a house within the school’s zone in the 1950s and sent all of his children to Douglas MacArthur Elementary School in the 1950s and 1960s. First Lady Betty Ford was a regular volunteer at the school.

Demolition of the building will begin in summer 2020 and will lead into construction. Students are expected to return to the site and occupy the new building in the winter of 2023.

View DLR Group’s presentation (PDF) from the October 29 Community Meeting.

See the Douglas MacArthur Modernization web page for more information.

Watch video of the kick off Community Meeting on October 29, 2019:

ACPS, MacArthur, News Release, Video