Arlington School Board members on Aug. 13 reacted negatively to a new staff proposal that pushes the cost of the new H-B Woodlawn/Stratford building from an previously estimated $80 million to just under $100 million, and sent staff members back to evaluate cost-cutting options.
“We have to put our feet on the ground and be realistic,” said School Board Vice Chairman Nancy Van Doren after a briefing on the conceptual design for the proposed Rosslyn project.
Van Doren was one of a number of board members expressing ill-disguised ire that staff did not flesh out a design option that would complete the project for the originally-agreed-to $80 million.
While praising the $100 million option as “absolutely stunning,” Van Doren intimated it may be a champagne proposal in a Pabst Blue Ribbon budget environment.
“I need to know what $80 million gets us, because that’s all we may have,” she said.
Board member James Lander appeared even more irked at the staff proposal, for which the school system would need to find almost $14 million in funding it does not currently have.
An $80 million facility is “what we signed on for,” Lander said, and said staff should have presented that option even if “it has two seats in it.”
Left to explain the reasons for the cost escalation was the school system’s construction czar, Scott Prisco. He cited a number of factors, from the desire of planners to provide more space (170,000 square feet rather than the original 150,000) and the increasing costs of construction in the Washington area, which could add $9 million to original estimates.
Perhaps anticipating the public spanking that awaited later in the meeting, Prisco told School Board members staff would work to whittle down costs.
“We are going to continue to look at ways to be creative,” he said. “Maybe we’ll get lucky, and the construction industry slows down.”
Planners are caught in a Catch-22: Even as they are being driven to cut costs in new school facilities across the county, enrollment projections continue to rise. The results has been new facilities, such as the rebuilt Washington-Lee High School, that have been overcrowded since their opening and now must be retrofitted to squeeze in additional seats.
School Board and County Board members earlier this year agreed to raze the century-old Wilson School building in western Rosslyn as part of a development deal that includes parcels of land owned by the school system, county government and private entities.
The new school on the Wilson parcel, which will house the relocated H-B Woodlawn Program and the Statford Program, is slated to be completed in time for the start of the 2019-20 school year. That gives the school system the next two years during which the design must be delivered, a contractor chosen and the first shovels put in the ground.
The building, likely to rise five stories, will sit on a 94,000-square-foot parcel bounded by Wilson Boulevard, North Quinn Street and 18th Street North. The 93-page conceptual design presented to School Board members on Aug. 13 is the latest step in the design process.
When the Woodlawn and Stratford students move into the new facility, their old complex will to renovated and expanded, then revert to its original use as a neighborhood middle school.