The City Council voted unanimously to approve the change in use of a vacant office building on the West End into a new school at the hearing on Saturday.
The school, based at 1701 N. Beauregard Street, will be the first new school for Alexandria City Public Schools since 2000. The first four floors of the office building will be used for the new 650-seat elementary school, while the top two floors will be used as office space 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, with a raised walkway to allow for easy student access.
The opening of the 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. ACPS student enrollment continues to grow at approximately 350 to 500 students per year—the size of a small elementary school—with the largest increases seen in the West End.
“We are very excited to be moving forward with the first new school in Alexandria in 17 years. ACPS is committed to being good neighbors and will work to resolve any outstanding concerns as we move ahead with this innovative solution to our capacity needs. We look forward to building partnerships in the community that can genuinely benefit our students and help support the school’s success,” said Interim Superintendent Lois F. Berlin.
As space in urban settings becomes more constrained, other school divisions have already proven that this model of retrofitting vacant office space is the model of the future. It is also economically beneficial to the city. Finding vacant land suitable for a school is almost impossible in Alexandria and would require much higher costs for new construction.
ACPS purchased 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 $64 million over twenty years based on the initial lease terms, current purchase price, and other anticipated costs to retrofit the building. Work to convert the office building into a school will begin in January 2018.
During the hearing, the City Council commended the project for its West End location, which has the greatest area of need, and said they were impressed by the degree of community support that it has received. They acknowledged that the neighborhood location of the school reduces the need for students to cross busy thoroughfares, increases walkability and minimizing the need for buses. The City Council approved the Development Special Use Permit, which establishes the concept for the site and changes the use to a school.
The School Board will begin a process this fall to decide the name of the new school. Programs under consideration for the school 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 will host a Community Meeting about the West End School at John Adams Elementary School on October 11 at 6:30 p.m.