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The Arlington school system’s request for additional bond funding to construct a new entrance to a recently built school drew the ire of some at a recent forum, but school officials said there is a reasonable – if somewhat labyrinthine – rationale.
“It’s a really awkward situation,” acknowledged School Board Chairman Barbara Kanninen, who joined a discussion of the matter at the Sept. 14 Arlington County Civic Federation meeting.
A new entrance to the Shriver Program, which is collocated with H-B Woodlawn Secondary Program in Rosslyn, is needed to make it easier for those with disabilities to access the building and the parking lot, Kanninen said.
The current entrance, while compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), “is not the kind of entrance we want,” said Kanninen, who jumped into the discussion from the audience after nobody else could provide specifics on the topic.
Original plans for the building, which opened in 2019, included a better entrance for the Shriver portion. But as part of the complicated development of the parcel – which also includes a fire station and affordable housing – the school system’s initial design had to be scrapped to allow a temporary fire facility to be shoehorned in while the permanent one was being constructed.
As a result, more funds are need to permit “the completion of a design that we had intended in the first place – complete it the right way,” Kanninen said.
The $11.39 million project accounts for nearly half the proposed $23 million school bond that goes to voters on Nov. 2. Included in the $11.39 million are other amenities for the Woodlawn/Shriver building (known to the school system as “The Heights”); the School Board chair said because all the development pieces are interconnected, it’s impossible to say with accuracy how much each component would cost separately.
Despite Kanninen’s explanation, not everyone at the online forum was mollified. Many have memories of other recent school-construction projects where money had to be spent after the fact to correct design flaws that, critics contend, should have been apparent from the outset.
“There are a lot of questions and concerns,” said Civic Federation president Allan Gajadhar.
Kanninen said county officials have dangled the possibility of providing the school system with some of the funding for the revamped entrance, but nothing had been set in stone.
“That’s still in discussion – we just don’t have the answer to that,” she said.
The other pieces of the $23 million school bond include $10.65 million for kitchen renovations and $970,000 for entrance renovations at various schools.
Three other referendums are on the fall ballot:
• $38.7 million for transportation and Metro. • $17.035 million for community infrastructure. • $6.8 million for local parks and recreation.
Arlington officials traditionally have sent bond packages to voters in even-numbered years, but the pandemic caused them to downscale the proposed 2020 bond referendums. The 2021 package is, in large measure, to catch up. Despite a rising municipal-debt level, Arlington voters continue to support bond referendums with large majorities. The last time the electorate rejected one was in 1979.