Alexandria, VA

The Alexandria School Board unanimously voted Thursday night to advance the “Forest” conceptual design for the new Douglas MacArthur Elementary School.

After more than a year of community meeting and planning, Alexandria City Public School planners are now feverishly working with architect DLR Group to make last minute adjustments, including adding a small community recreational space co-located at the school, before the concept goes to the city council for approval next month.

The school system is in a race to meet the construction deadline of opening the school to the public in Jan. 2023, during which time hundreds of MacArthur students will use the old Patrick Henry Elementary School as swing space.

“Yay, we’re going to build a school,” School Board Chair Cindy Anderson said to applause from her colleagues after the vote.

The tiered three-level Forest design is set back from Janneys Lane, and puts classrooms at the rear of the building, providing a view of nearby Forest Park for students. The Forest option was chosen over the “Y” option, which situated the school closer to Janneys and had student recreation areas in the rear of the school.

Superintendent Dr. Gregory Hutchings, Jr., said that the approval of the concept plan is far from the last step in the approval process before construction can begin. The final design will be submitted for approval this fall.

“It’s so important for us,” Hutchings told the board. “This is definitely a milestone for the work that we’re doing with Douglas MacArthur, but it’s not by far the last thing we’re going to talk about, and there’s a lot more that we’re going to talk about in terms of the schematic design that occurs after this process.”

The building will also have to adhere to the city’s Net Zero policy, meaning that it will have to generate as much energy as it uses, with geothermal water tanks and solar panels. This will be the first “Net Zero-ready” school in Alexandria.

MacArthur was built in 1943 to accommodate students of parents working in the Torpedo Factory during World War II, and became part of the city school system in 1947.

ACPS Chief Operating Officer Mignon Anthony said that the city opened up the height requirement at the site, which would allow it to go to four floors for future expansion — a controversial prospect given that the existing one-story school will be going to three stories. For now, she said, the school board will only have approved of a concept that will be subject to change.

“I think the interior of a building will evolve as we decide on all of the adjacencies for classrooms and where the corridors are and those types of things,” she said.

While the concept approved on Thursday night did not include the co-location of affordable or workforce housing on the site, as promised by Hutchings last week, staff are working to add a small a community recreation center.

“The co-location that’s going to happen on the site is primarily on the recreational side,” Anthony told the board. “And DLR has been instructed to calculate a square footage of a community-standard space in front of the school that is accessible from the outside for the community to use, and we don’t know how big that’s going to be.”

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