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Minnie Howard campus overhaul headed to City Council review this weekend

Three years after Alexandria’s School Board voted to stick with one high school, plans are headed to Alexandria’s City Council that could help shed light on what that one high school system looks like.

As a quick refresher: the Minnie Howard campus currently hosts 9th-grade classes but will be expanded to act as a larger satellite campus for Alexandria City High School with a total of 1,600 students.

The current school will remain in operation while the new school is built to the east in areas that are currently athletic fields. Once the new building is constructed, the current Minnie Howard building will be removed and replaced with new athletic and recreational facilities, along with a bus loop and parking.

“The DSUP submission seeks to provide additional classroom space for the growing high school population, as well as community meeting space, public recreation space and address site
circulation for pedestrians and motorists,” a staff report said. “The new five-story high school will be approximately 313,355 square feet and is designed for a capacity of approximately 1,600 students in grades 9th through 12th and 200 faculty.”

The report said the intention is for both campuses to function as one high school, with students in all four grades attending each campus.

“A typical student day will vary depending on course offerings at each campus and student’s course selection,” the report said. “Students may spend full or half days at one campus or travel back and forth. Both the Minnie Howard and King Street campuses will offer some of the same and some varying class options.”

A shuttle service will connect the two campuses, potentially running after each class period. Transportation for staff and teachers between campuses has not yet been determined, the report said.

Recreational fields at the new school will include a synthetic turf — with lighting baked into the approval — and tennis/pickleball courts, basketball/futsal courts and a grass practice area. After some contention, the final designs include two pools in a two-story aquatics facility. The pools at the school and gymnasium will be accessible to the public after school hours and on weekends.

Last April, the City Council approved a pinwheel concept for the school.

“The core of the pinwheel will consist of a three-story atrium topped by a two-story atrium space above,” staff explained in the report. “This will function as the heart of the school and center of circulation between the three wings and between the five different floor levels.”

The school will also have a fairly unique approach to student dining to break up Alexandria City High School’s notorious lunchtime crowds.

“The new high school will be introducing a new concept to student dining,” the report said. “In lieu of a single large cafeteria, smaller dining spaces will be provided on each floor so students will be able to dine in smaller groups and lunch hour capacity can be accommodated at the same time. Food will be prepared in a single kitchen and then delivered to each floor.”

The staff report recommends approval of the project’s request for a master plan amendment and other zoning requests.

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