West End School gets Planning Commission Approval

The West End school got a step closer to reality on Thursday night, when the Planning Commission voted to support changing the use of a vacant office building into a school.

The first four floors of the building at 1701 N. Beauregard Street will be used for the new 650-seat elementary school, while the top two floors will be used as office space potentially by ACPS or the City. Outdoor play space including a basketball court will be added on the roof of the adjacent parking garage at 1705 N. Beauregard Street.

During the hearing, the Planning Commission commended the project and said they were impressed by the degree of community support that it has received. They approved the Development Special Use Permit, which establishes the concept for the site and changes the use to a school. The request will now go before City Council to get final approval on September 16.

Several members of the Planning Commission said that they believed retrofitting vacant office buildings was an innovative way to provide needed school capacity and would be economically beneficial to the city. As space in urban settings becomes more constrained, other school divisions have already proven that this model works.

I’m heartened by what I’ve heard here tonight about the real support for the school from those who will be housed here. I think this is coming along as an exciting concept, to not only address the capacity problems that the schools have but also to provide an innovative school design in the city,” said Planning Commission Member Nathan Macek.

ACPS bought the building and adjacent garage in April 2017 for $15 million, while the cost to retrofit and refurbish the building is estimated to be $23.2 million. Purchasing the building will prove far more cost-effective for ACPS in the long-term, with a potential savings of approximately $28 million over ten years or $64 million over twenty years based on the initial lease terms, current purchase price, and other anticipated costs to retrofit the building. Finding vacant land suitable for a school is almost impossible in Alexandria and would require much higher costs for new construction.

Work to convert the office building into a school will begin in early 2018 and the school is scheduled to open in the fall of 2018. The School Board will begin a process this fall to decide the name of the new school. The opening new West End school coincides with ACPS plans to implement the new school boundaries in the fall of 2018 and addresses some of the urgent capacity needs that ACPS is facing.

Given the anticipated needs of the student population for the new school, programs under consideration include university partnerships, a world language program, an international academy program, Advancement Via Individual Determination (AVID), Positive Behavior Intervention Systems (PBIS) and GLAD – a program that assists with language acquisition. Student supports under consideration include Breakfast in the Classroom, Communities in Schools and the Extended Day Academic Program.

ACPS, Ferdinand Day