School Board set to sell Wilson School
On June 18, the Arlington Public School Board unanimously approved a ‘letter of intent’ to sell Wilson School and Playfield to Penzance Properties (owners of the CVS building next door). As best I can tell, no citizen advocate was aware that this was an agenda item for the June 18 meeting. One had to ‘drill down’ into the web agenda to see any mention at all of Wilson School. So, in a single action the School Board abandoned its policy on Wilson without effective notice and therefore without a single peep from the public. I’m not sure if the non-notification was due to APS staff incompetence, or if APS Board members purposely avoided facing citizens that they’d assured, with words and smiles, that the issue was not yet settled*.
At the bottom of this report see documentation of APS Board positions on Wilson.
A few weeks prior, Arlington County staff presented a proposed “Wilson School Special Planning Study” to several civic association leaders. The name of their project has changed to the “Western Rosslyn Study" but the developement message is the same. I provide a link to the "Western Rosslyn Study" at the bottom of this note. The current County proposal is similar in most respects to a development plan for Wilson that APS put forward ... and then withdrew about 7 years ago due to citizen dissatisfaction. Special interests never sleep. If their eyes are closed, it’s because they’re scheming. I provide my review of the County proposal follows immediately below:
- The "Western Rossly Study" area covers the Wilson School and playfield, the Rosslyn Fire Station and parking lot, the Rosslyn Heights Park (tot-lot and basketball court), the path that connects North Rosslyn to Wilson Boulevard, plus the committed-affordable Queens Court apartments.
- The proposed plan calls for “at least” 60,000 square ft2 (1.5 acres) of community space. That’s substantially less than what we’ve got now. I’m unaware that this proposal is informed by any evaluation of the availability and need for recreation space in our surrounding community (ie. Rosslyn). Also, the plan takes little note of the recommendation of Arlington’s Historic and Landmark Review Board that the school and playfields are an historic site.
- The plan involves development (probably high and intense) of two thirds of the site.
- There’s no mention of retaining the existing walkway through the property.
- Wilson School is gone gone gone. Maybe we’ll get a plaque.
- The plan includes construction of 200 units of affordable housing, probably via redevelopment of the existing Queens Court apts. However, the plan disregards preserving other highly threatened, nearby affordable housing (particularly the Crestmont and LeMar apts). So the plan countenances destruction of about 150 units of affordable housing to build 200 units.
The affordable housing lobby is engaged big-time in this "Western Rosslyn Study." I am reminded of the ‘housing project’ advocates of the 1960's who focused on construction over all other priorities, including housing preservation or play, education, and public space needs of a healthy community.
If you’d like to learn something about Wilson School and why it should be preserved, the absolute best starting point is “Save Wilson School,” a film available on YouTube. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JChPyzRBnTY
This APS board decision should be a wakeup call to civic- minded members of our community that our Arlington governance has lost its way in the darkness of secret negotiations and deals.
-Approved motion to sell Wilson at the June 18, 2013, APS Board meeting
-Minutes of the January 31, 2008 APS Board meeting (see pages 6 and 7)
-Western Rosslyn Development Plan website:
Position Statements on Wilson:
One example of unfulfilled promises concerning Wilson is a note dated May 10, 2013, from APS Board Member James Lander:
“My position is clear; I support the Wilson School site. My position has not changed since I was a candidate in as far back as 2008. I value the property and preservation of green space at the site. I was just recently made aware of the illegal parking that was taking place on the field next to the school; I immediately contacted the superintendent to ensure that a fence was put up to prevent further violations. Moving forward, I’m sure you and the group of citizens which to you are connected are well aware of our rapidly growing student population and the challenges that that presents. I will continue to be a vocal advocate for maximizing the effectiveness of the Wilson school and integrating that site as part of our long term planning for our projected growth in student population. Furthermore, I will continue to be accessible, available, and connected with your civic associations to better ensure communication between the school system and the residents in Rosslyn are partners in the conversations BEFORE decisions are made. Thank you again for your question and please don’t hesitate to reach out to me moving forward. It is a privilege to serve as your school board member and I want to earn your support to continue the challenging work ahead of us. I have to experience, relationships, and a countywide focus with regard to the impact our decisions have on communities and families. All the Best, James Lander”
I'm not fond of the title, but overall I think this is an excellent article.
Lander Rebuts Criticism Over Handling of Wilson School
Wednesday, September 4, 2013 11:45 AM by SCOTT McCAFFREY, Staff Writer, Arlington SunGazette
School Board Vice Chairman James Lander is working to deflect criticism that he made promises to the public but, since winning the Democratic nod in his re-election bid, has reneged on them.
At the Sept. 3 Arlington County Civic Federation candidate forum, Lander said neither he nor other members of the School Board had committed to selling off the Wilson School, a proposal that has won criticism from residents along the eastern half of the Rosslyn-Ballston corridor and historic-preservation advocates.
Mark Antell, a Civic Federation delegate from the Rosslyn area, pressed Lander on why he told constituents he wouldn’t support selling off the school site for development, then, not long after winning the Democratic nod, voted to do so.
“What happened?” Antell pressed.
Lander parried the question.
“I did not vote to sell the Wilson School – none of the School Board has,” he said. “No decision has been made at this point. I do value the Wilson School property.”
From a technical standpoint, Lander is correct: School Board members in June only authorized Superintendent Patrick Murphy to enter into negotiations with Penzance Properties LLC to incorporate the 2.6-acre school site as part of a mixed-use redevelopment project.
The School Board’s action was taken the same week as County Board members unveiled a process to guide redevelopment of the western end of Rosslyn, an area that includes not only the school site but also Fire Station No. 10.
County Board members in July set up a task force to work with staff on the planning process.
While it is the oldest school building still existing in Arlington, the Wilson School property has never been designated an historic district. When residents asked School Board members to support such a designation, they were rebuffed.
Preservation Arlington, a new group born out of the remnants of the Arlington Heritage Alliance, this year named the school as No. 6 on its list of the most endangered historic places in the county.
Any sale of the site first would have to be subject to a public hearing, and likely would require approval of the County Board in addition to the School Board. How much might school officials be able to get for the building and grounds? They aren’t making details public, but the site is assessed by the county government at $4.2 million, well below its assessment peak of $10.01 million in 2008. As school property, it currently is exempt from taxes.
First opened in 1910 as Fort Myer School, the Wilson School was sited on what not long before had served as the first tee of the original Washington Golf & Country Club, according to a history of the school on the county library’s Web site.
In 1926, the school was renamed to honor the memory of Woodrow Wilson, who often had traveled the vicinity in a touring motorcar car during his tenure as president from 1913-21.
Shifting demographic patterns and a declining student population by the late 1960s ended the facility’s first incarnation as an elementary school, although it later briefly resumed that function. It also was used to support cultural activities for the large group of Mongolian immigrants who moved into the local area in recent decades, and to provide space for other school programs.
Lander currently is serving his first term on the School Board. This spring, he narrowly survived a challenge by Barbara Kanninen in a Democratic nominating caucus. He has no opposition in the Nov. 5 general election.