NRCA Board Meeting of June 10, 2010
<Morton Friedman>
June 10, 2010

The meeting was called to order by President Jennifer Zeien at 7:30 PM. Board members in attendance were Jennifer Zeien, Mark Antell, Paul Derby, Mort Friedman, Heather Schaefer and Anne Spiesman.

The minutes of the General Meeting on May 13, 2010 were accepted by the Board. They will be posted on the NRCA web site and moved for approval at the next membership meeting.

Mark Antell reported on activities related to the Wilson School area. The remediation of the field adjacent to the school was not included in the final terms of the permit to First Baptist Church of Clarendon CDC for their use of Wilson School, though NRCA’s support of the permit, which necessitated a change in zoning, had been contingent on its inclusion. The permit was for one year and CDC will seek renewal in July. Mr. Antell recommended that we delay our response to the permit pending a determination as to whether the condition respecting community use of the school facility is being honored. Our position will be to oppose renewal of the permit unless the original commitments made are honored, including both community use of the facility and field remediation.

Paul Derby reported on the latest developments regarding the Arlington Public Schools (APS) Planetarium that is attached to the Arlington Education Center. In response to a petition circulated by The Friends of the Planetarium (FoP) and signed by over 3,000 residents, APS will keep the planetarium in operation for the next school year, but at a reduced level, owing to a 60% cut in the instructor salary line that they had imposed. A consortium of the Northern Virginia Astronomy Club and the FoP is working on a plan to keep the planetarium funded and in operation, and has developed a set of talking points in support of their position (appended). Ann Spiesman nominated Mr. Derby as the NRCA representative to the consortium, Heather Schaefer seconded the nomination, and he was elected unanimously. The consortium has determined that the current planetarium projector is dated, but useful. The banks of aging Kodak Carousel projectors can be upgraded for around $15K, and the remaining refurbishing needs can be phased in over 6-7 years. They maintain that the latter costs are substantially less than the $400K claimed by the School Board. They intend to be present at all School Board meetings and School Board Open Office Hours between now and April 2011, when the Board is to decide the matter. Mr. Antell suggested soliciting support for the planetarium from the Arlington County Civic Federation (ACCF).

Mr. Antell reported on recent ACCF activities. The Federation will host a candidates night at their September meeting, and presentations and a discussion of bonding and government structure in October. The latter may be a topic at the NRCA general meeting in September. Mr. Antell will look for speakers; 45-60 minutes will be set aside for this purpose. There being no regular general meetings beyond the September meeting prior to Election Day, an NRCA-sponsored candidates night would be held at a special general meeting. The candidates night could be sponsored jointly with the RAFOM and Palisades Park Civic Associations.

Jennifer Zeien reported that the NRCA had received a note from Fort Myer Construction (FMC), indicating that they wish to perform milling and paving on Rte 29 between Rte 66 and Key Bridge between 9 PM and 5 AM from June 14 to July 31, Sunday through Thursday. FMC cannot obtain a noise waiver allowing them to do the work at night without NRCA concurrence. Ms. Zeien informed FMC that NRCA opposed the waiver because of the anticipated level of noise, proximity of the work to residential areas, and the extended duration requested. She identified Mr. Antell as FMC’s point of contact with NRCA. In reply, FMC explained that night work would allow for faster job completion, and they offered to limit jack hammering to the 7–9:30 PM time period. Mr. Antell pointed out that Arlington encourages contractors to accomplish such roadwork during the day; Rosslyn permits construction noise until 9 PM. Mr. Antell brought the matter to the attention of Assistant County Manager Shannon Flanagan-Watson, who suggested that we complain to VDOT.

Ms. Zeien reported on plans for the walking tour with the County Board scheduled for June 23. She handed out maps and reviewed the route. The length of the tour is supposed to be one mile; Ms. Zeien will walk the route chosen by NRCA’s planning committee to confirm that its length meets this requirement. Ms. Schaefer volunteered to take photographs for a brochure NRCA will prepare for participants and a slideshow that can be used in the event of inclement weather. Ms. Zeien suggested that Ms. Schafer and she walk the route together. Additional photos may be provided by Mr. Derby and Rosslyn Renaissance.

Ms. Zeien noted that a public forum will be held to discuss the Gateway Park master plan. All stakeholders are invited. The forum, sponsored by the JBG Companies and Arlington County, will be held at the Arlington Temple United Methodist Church on June 28. JBG has offered to redevelop the eastern part of the park as part of the community benefit package associated with their anticipated redevelopment of Rosslyn Gateway. The Board discussed alternative uses for the park, including sport fields.

The meeting adjourned at 9:00 PM.

Respectfully submitted,

Mort Friedman, Secretary

Appendix: Talking points regarding the APS Planetarium

Arlington Public Schools is fortunate to have a planetarium. Of the approximately 26,400 high schools in the US about 900 high schools offer astronomy courses and approximately 350 high schools have planetariums - less than 2%. Having a planetarium is one of several indicators of the high quality educational experience available to Arlington students. According to one web site only the Dallas, TX, school system has more planetaria than Northern Virginia. Well developed and executed planetarium experience fits into the science curriculum of top schools. Arlington Public Schools should be supporting, not shedding the planetarium experience for their students. The planetarium used in conjunction with good instructional techniques is a valuable approach to achieving Virginia's standard of learning for physical sciences.

Requiring voluntary fund raising from the public to provide the finances to teach particular disciplines is unprecedented. The teaching of astronomy as part of the physical sciences curriculum should not be based on whether or not the community can raise the money. If this method or raising additional money to teach various subjects is successfully used for astronomy, it could lead to school boards selectively choosing other popular academic areas to cut out of the budget as a way to obtain additional funding above the tax base for other educational areas.

The planetarium is a teaching tool used to teach astronomy and space science. Teaching astronomy is done by people. Funding for teaching staff for astronomy and space science should be prioritized so that instructors are available to use the planetarium as a teaching tool and knowledgeable staff is available to work with community volunteers in the teaching of astronomy and space science and the mentoring of students interested in developing planetarium shows or using the planetarium in support of science projects.

Astronomy, as part of a physical sciences curriculum, is most appropriate for middle and high school students. While exposure to astronomy is beneficial to students of all ages, astronomy best fits when students have the intellectual skills to combine astronomy with physics, mathematics and history of science literature. Decisions to limit teaching of astronomy to lower grades is not an optimal use of the facility and faculty time. Operating the Planetarium on a part time bases such as 2 days a week is neither adequate, as it can only fully accommodate grades K-2 (and none of the outside groups that have been coming to the Planetarium) nor an efficient use of the planetarium as an already "paid for" educational asset.

Arlington Public Schools, the owner of this planetarium, has the responsibility of stewardship of these facilities. The planetarium was paid through taxation of the community and cannot exist without financial support. APS has neglected funding the planetarium from the tax dollars for 7 years, choosing instead to fund other priorities. Neglecting funding and allowing costs to build up over time should not be the basis for shutting down this valuable educational asset. It will take a number of years to "catch up". It will take much longer and cost substantially more to replace the planetarium at a later time. As each unfunded year passes, more money is needed to maintain the planetarium. This management approach need to be reversed.

Renovation of the planetarium dome, which is a huge part of the fund-raising effort, is not needed at this time. A new paint job would be adequate.

A detailed listing of the planetarium needs especially the structure needs and needs specific to the planetarium operation-- we have only heard about general needs listed as: projection system, new seating, and dome. The existing Spitz A4 projector is completely usable for projecting heavenly objects. The ancillary bank of carousel projectors and projection do need to be retired and replaced with a few modern computer driven projectors that cost much less than $20K each.
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