Alexandria, VA

“Alexandria High School” and “Naomi Brooks Elementary School”.

These could be the new names for T.C. Williams High School and Matthew Maury Elementary School, and they are Superintendent Gregory Hutchings, Jr.’s recommendation to the School Board.

The names will be presented at tonight’s (Thursday) School Board meeting. The school board voted last year to rename them after an extensive community review process.

The renaming of T.C. Williams High School — which honors a superintendent who was a vocal advocate for segregation — takes the relatively safe approach of changing the school name to honor the place rather than a person. The name beat “Titan Community High School” and “Ruth Bader Ginsberg High School” in a poll.

“Haven’t we learned that history has different perspectives, that no person is without fault and you can’t please everyone?” one student asked in the Alexandria City Public Schools presentation. “Naming schools, streets, bridges, parks and stadiums after historical figures is not necessary to preserve history. Let’s preserve the history of the place by naming the only high school in our city ‘Alexandria High School’. Let’s give recognition to the city where we live, work and grow. Root the identity of the school in the area it represents.”

Naomi Brooks Elementary School would honor Naomi Brooks, a beloved local teacher who attended segregated schools in Alexandria who later worked in those schools. Brooks died last year, meeting the eligibility requirement that schools cannot be named after current ACPS employees.

According to the Identity Project:

Brooks was raised attending segregated schools in Alexandria. Her strong desire to learn and share that with children was strong. She earned a degree in elementary education from Virginia State College and began her teaching career in 1955 in Alexandria–committed to educating all students. She was a beloved teacher at Charles Houston Elementary School and Cora Kelly Elementary School.

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As Alexandria approaches its second spring and summer with COVID, the city is starting to put out details on limited selection of recreational programs that will be available to the public.

Registration for spring programs launched today with a variety of camps and sports clubs open to enrollment.

Those interested in registering can do so online or in-person by calling the Registration and Reservation Office at 703-746-5414 to schedule an appointment.

According to a press release, the city is planning to release the full slate of summer programming on Wednesday, March 24. Registration will open on Wednesday, April 7, for City residents and on Friday, April 9, for nonresidents.

“Programs will meet all health guidelines for staff, participants and spectators, including symptom screening; use of face masks; enhanced cleaning between activity periods; and physical distancing protocols specified for each type of program,” the city said. “To ensure participant safety and prevent the spread of COVID-19, indoor locations will have limited capacity.”

Private programs, like electronics and welding clubs at a West Eisenhower maker space, have announced similar summer plans that will also have limited indoor capacity based on state regulations.

There are also disability accommodations for summer and spring programs, with more information available by contacting [email protected]alexandriava.gov or 703-746-5504 for Virginia Relay 711.

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With relocation of affordable housing off the table for Minnie Howard, a committee of city and Alexandria City Public Schools (ACPS) leaders met Monday to look to other projects to see where co-location could be implemented.

The city has several major relocation needs over the next few years, including a need to relocate four fire stations to fit changing population figures. At the Joint City-ACPS Facilities Master Plan community meeting, however, the focus was on affordable housing and school locations.

One of the locations being considered was the Community Shelter and Substance Abuse Center at 2355 Mill Road near the Hoffman Town Center.

Kayla Anthony, a representative from consultant Brailsford & Dunlavey Inc., said that the location was built 30 years ago and still serves a community need, but is in need of some refitting.

“Our first idea for a test fit focused on the affordable housing crisis,” Anthony said. “Housing is identified as an urgent need in assessment and aligned with opportunities in this site.”

One potential plan would see housing and the shelter co-located on the same site, and Anthony credited Carpenter Shelter’s new facility as an inspiration for the test fit.

Another test fit for the site would involve relocating the community shelter somewhere else and using the spot for mixed-use development including housing and commercial space.

“This takes our idea a bit further,” said Anthony. “One of the things we learned is because it can accommodate up to 200 feet of building height… and the shelter could be relocated to a surplus site, we wanted to see how we could maximize the site. If we relocated the shelter to a site in the future, that site could accommodate up to 300,000 square feet of multi-family and commercial units.

The proposal could include up to 160 residential units on the site.

“There’s more that can be done with the site if the shelter is relocated to another place,” Anthony said.

A map of the proposed mixed-use development at the site included both residential and commercial uses at the site.

Anthony emphasized that the test fits for the site is not approved by the city or even fully fleshed out plans, but are options the city could consider down the road.

Photo via Google Maps

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From a profile of a daring 18th century coffee shop owner to the arrest of local suffragists, the Office of Historic Alexandria is planning a series of lectures and activities for Women’s History Month.

Historic Alexandria is planning several events over the upcoming weeks, including:

  • Lecture on 18th Century Coffeehouse Proprietor Hannah Griffith, March 11, 7 p.m. — Learn how Hannah Griffith used her status, experience and industriousness to make a new life for herself and her eight young children in the late 18th century. After becoming widowed, she operated the prestigious Alexandria Coffee-House, which is one of the buildings that today are part of Gadsby’s Tavern Museum.
  • New Wayfinding Marker — A new wayfinding marker will be installed at the former Alexandria Custom House (SW corner of Prince & St. Asaph Streets) commemorating the Occoquan Workhouse Suffragists who were tried and convicted at that location, sponsored by Alexandria Celebrates Women.
  • A New Online Exhibit “Tramping and Trailing with the Girl Scouts” — Learn about Alexandria’s first Girl Scout troops and the important role youth organizations have historically played in supporting girls in their formative years.

The city is also planing to publish stories about female business leaders, including some that played a role in historic preservation efforts. An article in the March edition of Zebra will feature a profile of Julia Wheelock, who came to Alexandria as a nurse during the Civil War.

Historic Alexandria said those who want more stories and information about women’s history in Alexandria should follow the department’s Facebook and Instagram pages, which will regularly spotlight additional local profiles in women’s history.

Photo via National Women’s History Museum/Facebook

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Some parents and teachers are facing uncertainty and lingering questions in the days and weeks before ACPS returns to in-person school on March 16.

While ACPS has regularly put out newsletters on the plan for reopening, some in the community are still unsure if their teachers will be back in the classrooms or whether teachers who have been unable to secure a vaccine amid a hectic rollout will be forced to return.

“It’s been absolutely wild at the school right now,” a teacher at one of Alexandria’s middle schools told ALXnow. “We were told early in the pandemic that no one is going to be forced back. There was a back to school survey and they told families it was non-binding. We were told that if you have a medical issue, no one is being forced back to school. They did a sharp turn a few weeks ago: that we’d be back in the buildings March 1.”

While teachers are currently able to get the vaccine on paper, city leadership acknowledged that the process has been slow-going as doses trickle into the city from the state. The teacher said some faculty have faced difficulty getting the vaccine, or have gotten the first dose but are expected to go back to work before they get the second dose.

An ACPS spokesperson said the city is trying to get teachers vaccines, but considers them voluntary.

“The vaccination is voluntary and not required for staff to work in schools,” ACPS said. “All ACPS staff who sign up for the vaccination are designated as priority 1B. The AHD continues to schedule as many staff as possible for vaccinations depending on vaccine logistics.”

The teacher told ALXnow that they are required to submit a doctor’s notes if they are concerned about health conditions putting them at risk if they return to work, but that several have had notes rejected. An ACPS spokesperson said the organization would not comment on the process for health conditions as a “personnel matter” but that staff are encouraged to reach out to an HR representative for assistance. The teacher said that many in school faculty have tried contacting HR, but their calls go unanswered.

“We’re told ‘that’s an HR question’ but they won’t pick up the phone,” a teacher said. “I make calls, but they won’t call back and won’t respond to requests for calls. It’s anonymous people at HR making decisions for who is going back. I want to believe they’re well intentioned, but everybody is pretty confused.” Read More

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(Updated 4 p.m.) On person has been arrested for a Fast and Furious-style illegal street race on I-495 near Telegraph Road this weekend.

According to a press release, the police became first aware of the incident on Saturday around 11:15 p.m. when an officer on patrol heard loud exhaust sounds from I-495.

“Upon receiving an alert from Virginia State Police about vehicles racing in the area of I-495 and Telegraph Road, Sergeant Ryan Waple positioned himself to observe 3-4 vehicles traveling in a group, positioning themselves to race,” APD said in the release. “The drivers of two vehicles, including a silver Mustang GT, then revved their engines and accelerated. Sergeant Waple followed with due regard for safety, as the vehicles reached speeds of 105MPH. At that point, he activated his emergency equipment and successfully stopped and apprehended the driver of the Mustang GT.”

Police arrested one person for racing and reckless driving by speed, and impounded his Mustang GT.

The arrest is the latest in a coordinated campaign with Virginia State Police to address speeding and racing issues. The release noted that there are often community frustrations created by loud noise, but noted that state legislation prevents officers from initiating traffic stops for vehicles for offenses like altered exhaust systems.

“This type of behavior is dangerous to anyone these drivers are sharing the road with and will not be tolerated,” said Chief Michael Brown in the press release.  “We want to commend Sergeant Waple for his effort to stop this reckless behavior.”

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(Updated 3/2 at 1 p.m.) Local tech co-building space Building Momentum (5380 Eisenhower Avenue) is launching a series of after-school tech camps for Alexandria students.

The news comes as Alexandria City Public Schools readies to send students back into schools. Building Momentum, based out of small collection of businesses on the west end of Eisenhower avenue, will start with welding and electricity clubs tomorrow.

Classes will be available for all rising 6th through 12th graders.

“The program launches next month with spring sessions for middle school and high school-age students slated to begin March 2 and go through June 16,” the company said in a press release.

The release noted that the classes will be limited to nine students to comply with state restrictions, with masks and social distancing required.

“The classes were born with the intention to provide area students with hands-on learning experiences not always touched on in a traditional school setting,” Cecily Wynne, education associate with Building Momentum, said in the press release. “Innovation Academy sessions are geared specifically for kids and teach a variety of science and tech-based skills such as welding, coding, circuit making and many other engineering methods all within a safe, socially-distant environment.”

According to the release:

  • Spring Session: After-school Welding Club, March 2-April 27: Welding Club features MIG welding, multiple team challenges, and personal projects over the course of 9 weeks. Cost: $330 including $25 non-refundable registration fee.
  • Spring Session: After-school Electronics Club, May 5 – June 16: Electronics Club features creating circuits, learning how to use Arduino, soldering, and a personal project over the course of 7 weeks. Cost: $260 including $25 non-refundable registration fee.
  • Summer Session: Welding Week: Build Your Own Gravity Go Kart, July 5 – August 27: Welding Week features MIG welding, the engineering design loop, teamwork, constructive criticism, and building in a 5-day week. The week wraps up with a design presentation and race between the gravity kart teams. Cost: $475/person, including $50 non-refundable registration fee.

The program will also have 10% discounts for military families.

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In the build up to the June 8th primary, the West End Business Association has announced that it will host a series of interviews with candidates to discuss how they plan to support the city’s West End.

The first in the series, an interview with incumbent City Council member Canek Aguirre, is scheduled for Thursday, March 4 from 1-2 p.m. The discussion will be hosted by Paul Friedman, WEBA government relations chair.

“WEBA wants to help you be informed as you prepare to attend the upcoming Primary on June 8th,” WEBA said in a press release. “We have asked Alexandria candidates to join us on several upcoming Thursdays to allow them to share how they would support Alexandria and Alexandria’s West End.”

The plan is to continue to host the interviews every Thursday via Zoom.

The event is free, but pre-registration is required.

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The 2,233-member strong Bring Integrity Back to Alexandria (BIBA) Facebook page has become a prominent forum for criticism against local government but has found itself the object of some backlash and now: parody.

A blog launched this weekend, Make Alexandria Great Again, includes a handful of posts lampooning common topics in the group, like frequent criticism of Mayor Justin Wilson, opposition to added density, and nostalgia for the city’s past.

“What happened to this city,” said one blog post, titled ‘I Used to Be Able to Buy a Hamburger in This City for A Nickel’. “Used to be, a man could walk around with some change in his pocket and live like a king. A nickel! I used to put a nickel down on the counter and the man would give me a hamburger!”

The BIBA group started in 2018 focused on opposition to new bike lanes on Seminary Road but the group has since expanded into other issues, like criticism of city’s plans to restore Taylor Run.

The page features a banner image with various people on the City Council or in city administration that are frequent targets for critique from the group. The parody site features a similar image, but with Mayor Justin Wilson alongside characters from Parks and Recreation, West Wing, the Andy Griffith Show, 24, and the Battlestar Galactica reboot.

A post from today remarks that the group’s “founder” is running for City Council, a reference to early BIBA member and former administrator Bill Rossello running for City Council.

The parody site includes categories like:

The page even includes a cameo parody of ALXnow: “ALXToday”

Image via Make Alexandria Great Again

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The Basilica School of Saint Mary (310 S Royal Street) in Old Town could grow by two new buildings if a new development application goes through.

The Catholic Diocese of Arlington is requesting permission to build a new library and media center at their 400 Green Street property.

“St. Mary’s has operated on the Property since 1948, and has grown and changed along with the needs of the student body and the community,” the diocese said in the application. “The proposed addition would connect two school buildings on the Property and allow students to safely travel between the two classroom buildings. Site improvements include reorienting the parking lot and student pick-up and drop-off area, adding one elevator for ADA accessibility, and other landscaping and playground improvements.

Even with the added buildings, the diocese said the floor area ratio (FAR) of 0.7 is still significantly below the permitted 1.5 FAR.

“The proposed addition connects the southeast corner of the Main Building with the northwest corner of Stephen’s Hall and contains approximately 19,298 square feet of floor area on the library level,” the diocese said.

The proposal will also add a new tower to the campus, described as “architecturally distinct from the existing cupola” but still borrowing from parts of the main design.

The new design also aims to cut down on the traffic from the school piling up on nearby streets.

“Currently, the existing pick-up and drop-off pattern involves significant queuing in surrounding streets and neighborhood,” the diocese said. “In order to internalize the pick-up and drop-off traffic, the Applicant proposes to reorient the pick-up and drop-off area to the rear of the school, behind the gym. Parents will enter the School from South Royal Street, drive under the proposed addition to the rear of the school, where faculty will direct the pick-up and drop-off process. To exit the School grounds, they will drive down a one-way alley along the western side of the Main Building and exit on to Green Street.”

The item is scheduled for review at the Thursday, April 8, Planning Commission meeting.

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