Facing community unrest in Westover, Arlington Public Schools plans to take another look at the potential of saving more trees during construction of a new elementary school on North McKinley Road near Washington Boulevard.
Following an Aug. 29 meeting with residents, the school system has directed that “before the trees are removed, we have the contractor stake out the site and renumber the trees. At that time, we will request a site visit from [the county’s urban forester] to review the actual site marked in the field and . . . provide an opinion on whether he feels they will survive and be healthy and could remain with no changes to the site layout,” said Jeffrey Chambers, director of design and construction for Arlington Public Schools, in an e-mail.
The decision comes after a number of residents in the area accused school officials and the arborist of stonewalling the community’s concerns about plans to remove about 40 trees on the site.
“They are planning to pretty much clear-cut the massive trees – healthy, mature, beautiful and home to many kinds of fauna – well away from the construction, and not replace them,” said Catherine Dowling, one of the nearby residents who is part of the crusade to rethink the tree-removal plan.
The school system “is not opposed to taking a second look on how the work will affect the trees,” said Chambers, but he drew the line in going back and revisiting the entire design proposal.
“APS cannot delay the project without affecting our students, and budget,” Chambers wrote. “Compromises were made on this site between trees, playground, fire access, open green space and stormwater facilities, and if we make a change in the plan to retain the trees, there would be loss of other features on the site.”
But neighbor Bill O’Brian, in a letter to County Manager Mark Schwartz, said it was not an either/or proposition.
“Decades-old trees can be saved without changing the Reed project design plan at all – if you act promptly,” O’Brian said.
Arlington School Board members earlier approved the design for the new elementary school, which would be built on a parcel currently occupied by the Reed School adjacent to Westover Library. At the time of its approval, critics complained about the tree-removal plan and questioned why portions of the Reed School would be torn down instead of incorporated into the new facility.
School Board members initially set a maximum price of $49 million for the 725-student school, but late last year agreed to up that by as much as $6 million. Construction is expected to take two years, with the school being ready for occupancy at the start of the 2020-21 school year.
Community opposition to removing mature trees might have gained further traction earlier this summer, when Westover was particularly hard-hit by rainstorms that caused erosion, flooding and damage to roadways and buildings.
The “terribly wild and out-of-control” recent storm – and future ones like them – make properties around the school site susceptible to massive erosion, Dowling said in a letter to the Sun Gazette.