Image: Toole Design Group (via Arlington County); Illustration: Steve Thurston
The Arlington County Board approved the use permit for the planned expansion of Ashlawn Elementary School on a 3-0 vote, with two board members abstaining. The 27,000 square foot, three-floor addition to the elementary school at 5950 N. 8th Road, is part of Arlington Public Schools “More Seats for More Students” initiative.
The new school will hold 684 students, 160 more than currently. The parking will be expanded to 110 units about half on-site, and half on the street and in the nearby Dominion Hills Recreation Area (the Dominion Hills pool parking lot). Total cost is $14.9 million to be shared between the county and schools.
Although the property is part of the school system, it had to go before the county board for use approval since it is new construction.
Members Mary Hynes and Chris Zimmerman abstained saying they agreed with at least 90 percent of the project and that they wanted to see the project overall move forward so that the school did not fall behind their capacity needs.
However, they were against the location of the “Manchester Loop,” a driveway running from N. Manchester Street that would pave over a portion of the green space on the school’s grounds. Zimmerman said that he thought there might be a way to allow the building to move forward while delaying the driveway, but when that fell through, he decided to abstain to show his displeasure. About 16,000 square feet of permeable surface would become impermeable under the plan, according to county documents.
The three board members who voted for it wished to “respect the process,” recognizing that months of meetings and debates ended with an imperfect but acceptable plan.
"For me, delay isn't a reasonable alternative,” said board Vice Chair Jay Fisette.
Member Libby Garvey said she saw this as the “least bad” solution. Both Garvey and Hynes are former school board members.
Ashlawn sits near the intersection of N. Wilson Blvd. and N. Manchester Street, just west of Bluemont Park.
The 5000 block of N. 8th Road runs sharply uphill from Manchester, and dead ends just before hitting N. Wilson Blvd.
Everyone in the boardroom said that the current traffic patterns along N. 8th Road are dangerous at epic levels. This is an echo of others interviewed by the Mercury in previous stories.
Parents and staff talked about children sharing the road with buses and with cars making three-point turns. They also described walking with children and pushing strollers in the middle of the road because there is no sidewalk between Wilson Blvd and the school.