A literal last-second shot helped T.C. Williams claim a boys basketball division title for the first time in more than decade.
The buzzer beater came Friday night as T.C. was tied 42-42 with West Potomac. Star senior TJ Horton received a quick pass and launched a shot from near the three-point line with just a second to go to clinch the win.
Fans stormed the court as T.C. captured its first Gunston District championship in more than 10 years.
More on the moment from social media:
🔥🏀 ICYMI: @TCWTitans Boys Basketball are the 2020 Gunston District Champs for the first time in over 10 years after their defeat of WestPo in a down-to-the-buzzer win Friday night. Watch the sweet ending to this game: https://t.co/xhMsEpwWkc#TitansRising
— Alexandria City Public Schools (@ACPSk12) February 24, 2020
CUT THE NETS!
Shout out to TJ Horton for coming up big with the game winner last night to give the TC Titans their first district title in 10 years.
— Griffin Vision Photography (@VisionofGriffin) February 23, 2020
— T.C. Williams H.S. Football Boosters (@TCTitanFootball) February 22, 2020
Congratulations! 🏀 pic.twitter.com/aDPuqycM6B
— T.C. Williams Boys Basketball (@TCWilliamsHoops) February 22, 2020
The boys are not the only T.C. team seeking playoff glory this season. The girls basketball team will be hosting a first round game against Fairfax High School in the regional tournament tonight.
Big Day for Athletics here at TC. Spring Sports Start (Schedule to re-posted shortly) and our Girls Basketball Team host the First Round of the Regional Basketball Tournament. Good Luck to all. pic.twitter.com/eYkwMlW3HF
— TCW Sports (@TCWSports) February 24, 2020
(Updated at 9:40 a.m.) George Washington Middle School has again been evacuated after a report of a gas odor in the school’s auditorium.
The incident happened around 9 a.m. today (Thursday). Firefighters responded to the school to investigate the odor, but initial reports suggest nothing hazardous was found. Students were expected to return to classrooms after about 20-30 minutes outside in the cold.
“The smell was caused by a rooftop heating unit that was installed in the summer and still requires some adjustments,” Principal Jesse Mazur wrote. “We are working with the contractors who installed these new units to resolve some of the ongoing issues we have been experiencing with them since November.”
GW Middle has also been dealing with other maintenance problems, including water quality issues. As ALXnow reported last week, testing revealed relatively high levels of copper and lead from a number of water outlets at the school. On Tuesday the school told families that it aerating, flushing and re-testing the water outlets, which were being kept off line during the process.
2/20/2020 9:29 a.m. George Washington Middle School cleared for re-entry following evacuation due to a smell of gas. Updates: https://t.co/SmBx3a2R2z
— Alexandria City Public Schools (@ACPSk12) February 20, 2020
The crossing guards at Mount Vernon Community School are in love and they’re getting married.
Every school morning and afternoon, Essie Tarpley and Kalil Mason-Alphanso work their respective sections on opposite sides of the Del Ray elementary school. Each will high-five students, parents and teachers braving the early morning street crossings. Lately those early morning greetings have been congratulatory.
But that’s only because word just got out.
In fact, the couple have been engaged for about two years. Mason-Alphanso just finished his first year working as a crossing guard, while Tarpley has been a crossing guard at Mount Vernon for the last 15 years. When her fiancé moved from New York to live with her in Alexandria, she told him that there was a job opening in her unit.
“There’s a big building right between the two of us. But we work at the same place,” Mason-Alphanso told ALXnow. “It’s actually pretty awesome.”
The story goes that Tarpley and Mason-Alphanso met three years ago on the seventh day of an 11-day Carnival Journeys cruise in the Caribbean. There was a dance party that got a little rowdy for some of the aged guests trying to sleep, and it was announced that it had to be shut down. Tarpley approached the DJ to protest, since he was just starting to play the 90s music she loves, and that’s when Mason-Alphanso first saw her.
“I was just happy to see someone on the cruise that was my age,” he said. “Most of the time on those cruises it’s very young people and very old people, and no in-between. So we moved to another portion of the ship to go dancing to Latin music.”
The couple, who have not decided on a wedding date, also finish each other’s sentences.
“He asked me if I was good at dancing, and I said I was all right,” Tarpley said.
“I told her that I danced everything, and we got out there and she was more than all right,” Mason-Alphanso quickly interjected. “She shut me down.”
The pair were inseparable for the rest of the voyage.
Tarpley has a number of other jobs, including teaching Zumba at the YMCA on Monroe Avenue, and as a cafeteria hostess at Patrick Henry Elementary School.
The work can be stressful, and Tarpley takes it in stride.
“Everyone is trying to get somewhere and especially in the morning, nobody wants to start off their morning with attitude. No one wants to get yelled at first thing. So, we greet them with a smile and understand they’re trying to get somewhere,” she said. “I understand that I am stopping you… Give me a second and I’m going to get you on your way as quickly as I can while I save the lives of these children.”
“And the same thing goes for the kids,” she continued. “Sometimes the kids don’t feel like going to school and they’re just like, ‘Oh, this sucks. I have a test,’ and I’m like, ‘Hey, you woke up today, you got dressed, you’re here on time! You rock, you’re awesome, and great job mom and dad. You got the kids in school on time right before the door closed? Yes! Adulting properly is awesome. Everybody break out the confetti and just throw it. It’s a little victory.'”
Recently she was talking to some teachers at Mount Vernon about being a crossing guard.
“I’m like, ‘Well, my fiancé works on the other side,’ and it was a big shock.”
News spread and the couple soon started receiving congratulations from parents and students.
“They’re great,” said Mike Dameron, who walks his kids to Mount Vernon every school day. “It’s a perfect match. Everybody at Mount Vernon knows about them. It’s just really heartwarming when you hear of a love story in your small community.”
(Updated at 7 p.m.) A T.C. Williams student was arrested at the school today (Thursday) and charged in the killing of two people on a rural Virginia Highway, NBC 4 first reported.
Ntombo Joel Bianda, 21, of Alexandria, and Ayanna Munne Maertens Griffin, 19, of Germantown, Maryland, were found shot to death along Route 58 in southern Virginia over the weekend.
The Alexandria Police Department confirmed to ALXnow that its officers were on scene at the high school for the arrest of a T.C. student. The case is being investigated by Virginia State Police, an APD spokesman said.
State police released the following press release about the arrest late Thursday afternoon.
An 18-year-old Alexandria male has been arrested and charged in Saturday’s double homicide in Halifax County. On Thursday (Feb. 13, 2020) morning, the Virginia State Police Bureau of Criminal Investigation’s Appomattox Field Office took Mohamed A. Aly into custody without incident in Alexandria, Va. Aly has been charged with two counts of first degree murder and two counts of use of a firearm in the commission of a felony. Aly will be held at the Blue Ridge Regional Jail in Halifax, Va.
At 2:51 a.m. Saturday (Feb. 8), Virginia State Police responded to Route 58 in Halifax County near Melon Road. A silver 2009 Nissan Maxima was located in the median with Ntombo Joel Bianda, 21, of Alexandria, Va., and Ayanna Munne Maertens Griffin, 19, of Germantown, Md., found deceased and lying in the grass nearby. Both had suffered gunshot wounds.
“State police personnel have been working around the clock pursuing multiple leads related to this homicide investigation,” said Capt. David O. Cooper II, Commander of the Virginia State Police Bureau of Criminal Investigation’s Appomattox Field Office. “We cannot thank the public enough for providing the tips and information necessary to aid our special agents with effecting an arrest so quickly.”
Since Saturday, the FBI Richmond Field Office, ATF and several other local law enforcement agencies have been assisting state police with the homicide investigation. State police has also been assisted with various evidentiary searches in Halifax County by K9 teams from the Virginia Department of Corrections and Bedford County Sheriff’s Office.
As the investigation remains ongoing at this time, the Virginia State Police is still encouraging anyone with information about this incident or individuals involved to contact us at 434-352-7128 or #77 on a cell phone or to email [email protected]. Anonymous calls are welcome.
Aly was a popular student and a player on the varsity football team, and a few of his T.C. classmates expressed support for him on Snapchat Thursday night.
Via Twitter, T.C.’s athletic director discouraged players from speaking to members of the media.
ATTENTION: TC Football Players, students and athletes please do not respond to any media who reaches out to you! Let me know and we will handle it. @TCTitanFootball
— James Parker (@TCWilliamsAD) February 13, 2020
Just after 5 p.m., principal Peter Balas sent the following email to T.C. Williams families, acknowledging the arrest and saying that counselors will be available at the school “over the next few days.”
Dear T.C. Williams Parents and Guardians,
We are writing to inform you that a T.C. Williams High School student was arrested today for his alleged involvement in a crime that occurred outside of the City of Alexandria and our community. We are complying with authorities as they conduct their ongoing investigation, and we are referring all questions to Virginia State Police. It is ACPS policy to not comment on an active police investigation.
This situation was handled today according to protocol, and the safety and security of our students and staff were never at risk. Protecting members of our school community is always our top priority, and we take any matter relating to the safety of our schools very seriously. As a precautionary measure, additional security will be in place at the school tomorrow.
We should expect that there will be a variety of reactions to what has occurred, and the most important thing we can do is to be supportive and encourage an open expression of emotions. Counselors will be available for students and staff members at the school over the next few days. We encourage your child to reach out for support as needed. We will be monitoring students carefully over the next few weeks. If you feel that your child or family needs assistance, please contact the school administration at 703-824-6800, and we will do everything we can to help you.
T.C. Williams High School
A GoFundMe page has been set up to raise money for Bianda’s memorial fund. So far it has raised just over $7,000.
James Cullum contributed to this report
A survey of Alexandria City Public Schools’ drinking water sources has come back with relatively high levels of copper and lead in George Washington Middle School (1005 Mount Vernon Avenue).
Many of the schools had no outlets or very few that tested above action levels — amounts that require equipment replacement — for copper or lead. The EPA’s action levels for copper are 1.3 mg/L and much lower for lead, 0.015 mg/L. At T.C. Williams High School, 259 samples were collected and only four tested above actionable levels.
At George Washington Middle school, however, 15 of the 132 samples tested high for either copper or lead.
ECS Mid-Atlantic, which tested the water supplies, noted that efforts were made to collect a sample from every sink, water fountain, bottle refilling station and water fountain in the building.
“Some areas within the building were locked,” the report said. “ECS was informed by an ACPS representative that sinks were not located in the locked areas. Please note that ECS observed a sink in a locked closet in the cafeteria that was unable to be sampled.”
A map of the samples collected around George Washington Middle School shows that the samples with elevated lead were from across the school, though eight of them concentrated around the gym area. The report suggest that, going forward, the building be checked periodically, at a minimum of every three years.
It’s been a rough year for safety issues at George Washington Middle School, with a series of fire alarm incidents last fall and a student-led fight to prove the school still had a mold problem. The school was evacuated two weeks ago because of a gas smell, though the principal said there was ultimately no danger.
Francis C. Hammond Middle School didn’t fare much better in the water testing, with 7 of the 72 samples tested showing elevated levels of lead.
All of the high copper and lead water sources in both schools were in sinks, as were most across the other schools. The following schools had high levels of copper or lead in water fountains, though only generally in one per school.
- Early Childhood Center
- Cora Kelly School for Math, Science and Technology
- John Adams Elementary School
- Matthew Maury Elementary School
- Mount Vernon Community School
- Patrick Henry K-8
Full reports on each school, and the final reports for each location, are available online.
According to the school website:
Any outlets with higher than usual levels have already been taken out of use and will continue to remain out of use until the issue has been fixed. Parts of the units will be replaced and/or the lines flushed. Once this work has been completed, the water will be retested and ACPS will collect follow up samples to ensure it remains within safe limits in the future.
Higher than normal levels of lead or copper in an outlet can be caused by deterioration of the pipes or from the faucet itself. Lead was sometimes used in metal alloys to make fixtures prior to 1987. It is anticipated that the replacement and/or repair of the outlets will quickly solve this issue.
ACPS is working closely with the Alexandria Health Department on this issue. Water testing will continue to be carried out throughout the school division and all reports made public on the ACPS website.
ACPS advised that parents concerned about their child’s exposure to lead should have them tested at a pediatrician or family doctor.
“If you do not have a pediatrician or family doctor, call Neighborhood Health at 703-535-5568 to make an appointment,” ACPS said on the website.
Image via Alexandria City Public Schools
Wilmer Carranza hardly spoke a word of English when he moved back to Alexandria from El Salvador in 2009. Now the 17-year-old senior at T.C. Williams High School has a 3.999 grade point average, is a student representative on the Alexandria School Board and recently received a $250,000 scholarship to attend Lafayette College in northern Pennsylvania.
Carranza is the first member of his family to go to college and credits his success to his mother, friends and the Alexandria public school system.
“Now I get to start a new legacy,” Carranza told ALXnow. “Now my children after me and their children after them — I hope they all start to go to college and get the education that I was able to get. So, that’s something that I’d love to see and would want that to happen with my family.”
T.C. Principal Peter Balas called Carranza a “stand-out superstar.”
“Wilmer is absolutely wonderful. We’re all so proud of him,” Balas said. “The only time he’s called into the office is when we want to discuss with him what’s going on with the school board, what he thinks should be going on here at the school and other wonderful contributions.”
Carranza was born in Alexandria, and moved to El Salvador at an early age with his mother, Reina Carranza, to live with his father and three older siblings. Three years later, the pair returned to Alexandria and young Carranza was enrolled in second grade at Mount Vernon Community School. It took him about six months to get a handle on the English language, which was a frustrating process, he said.
“It was terrifying. I used to cry every day,” Carranza said. “It was something I wasn’t used to, and I literally had no idea what was going on. Whenever my teacher asked me any questions or to do something, I didn’t understand.”
Carranza enrolled in the Advanced Via Individual Determination program when he was a seventh-grader at George Washington Middle School.
“They were the ones that started my progress to develop my skills and my character into having to be prepared for college,” he said. “They’ve been there for… every educational decision I made, so they’re a major part of my life for this college process.”
Fast forward to three months ago: Just before the winter break, Carranza was hanging out with friends at a Safeway in Alexandria when he got the call telling him that he’d received the $250,000 Posse Foundation scholarship. After three rounds of interviews and an intense application process, Carranza didn’t believe that he was capable of getting such an award.
“At first I was speechless,” he said. “We were about to go home, go to the DASH bus and I got the call. I told everyone else and they were all screaming at me because they were all happy for me and they started recording me and put it on Snapchat. So, that was something amazing. I didn’t even think I could get a scholarship like this, and then once I got the call it made me realize that I can do more than I think I can.”
Carranza says he wants to study computer science at Lafayette. He also dabbles in graphic design, and last year won a school competition to design the ticket for the T.C. prom.
After getting home, Carranza broke the good news to his mom, who is a housekeeper at a hotel in the city.
“I told her that it’s a quarter-million dollars and then she started freaking out. I told her that she doesn’t have to worry about paying anything, not any cent because I’ll get that covered,” he said. “There is not really anything that I can give her to make up for all the hard work that she’s done, except relieve the stress from her back and not worry about me as much as she has in the past by like working double shifts all day and night. I just want her to relax and enjoy life.”
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.”
Co-locating affordable and workforce housing is off the table at Douglas MacArthur Elementary School, but it will be considered at all future schools slated for renovation.
That’s according to Alexandria City Public Schools officials and city staff who spoke to parents and community advocates at the school on Monday night.
The school board is set to vote on a concept plan for MacArthur on Thursday, Feb. 6, and Superintendent Dr. Gregory Hutchings, Jr., said that in order for the school to meet its construction timeline of opening in Jan. 2023, all discussions of co-locating housing at the school have been shelved. However, the upcoming staff presentation on MacArthur says that smaller-scale options like installing recreational programming and facilities is still being considered.
“Douglas MacArthur will not have affordable housing at this project due to the timing constraints that we need to really stick to,” Hutchings said, adding that ACPS needs to define what co-locating means on school grounds. “If it’s going to be at a school site, what would that look like? What are the outcomes we’re seeking, and what are the benefits as well as the challenges with that so that we are able to articulate that when times of discussing the projects?”
City Manager Mark Jinks also attended the MacArthur meeting, and said that the city is in the midst of an affordable housing crisis.
Co-locating services on school grounds has been done before, Jinks said, noting that William Ramsay Elementary School (5700 Sanger Ave) includes a recreation center and a nature center. Jinks has backed the idea of housing ACPS employees at schools that develop on-site housing alternatives.
“The whole idea is not new. The intent is to get the best use of our community assets,” Jinks said. “We don’t have a plethora of land to build horizontally that we would wish.”
Christine Coussens, a MacArthur parent, said Jinks’ example was a far cry from co-locating affordable housing on school grounds.
“We’re a school first,” Coussens said. “The examples that you have given are toward recreation. That supports our students. So, putting something forward, talking about co-localization and affordable housing is disingenuous to our community.”
Alexandria City Councilwoman Amy Jackson, who is also a MacArthur parent, said there has been a lack of transparency between the city and the public on the issue. Jackson is also a member of the MacArthur Modernization Design Advisory Committee.
“There hasn’t been the transparency — the communication — needed between the city and ACPS to actually say, ‘This is what we’re doing,'” Jackson told ALXnow. “There is a lack of communication and outreach in the community to get the word out. That’s it. If everybody knows what’s going on no one’s going to be frustrated, no one’s going to be annoyed, no one’s going to be upset and then be raging like the rest of the parents here at MacArthur.”
The principal at George Washington Middle School says there is no danger to students after the smell of gas again prompted a school-wide evacuation on Thursday.
Principal Jesse Mazur notified parents after the incident that the smell was caused by a rooftop heating unit that was installed last summer. It was the second evacuation at the school since a gas odor was detected on Nov. 21, 2019.
“The smell was caused by a rooftop heating unit that was installed in the summer and still requires some adjustments,” Mazur wrote. “We are working with the contractors who installed these new units to resolve some of the ongoing issues we have been experiencing with them since November.”
Mazur said that all students and staff were accounted for and that Washington Gas inspected the unit in question and determined there to be no gas issue.
GW has experienced more than its share of facilities issues. A fire alarm at the school did not sound during a fire drill on Nov. 11, 2019. Three days later the alarm did not automatically sound when a poster was set on fire. On Nov. 18, an “intrusion alarm” signaling the opening of an emergency door unexpectedly went off in the front office. Three days later, on Nov. 21, the school was evacuated due to the smell of gas and the fire alarm failed to properly function.
1/30/2020 12:02 p.m. GW Middle School is being evacuated due to the smell of gas. Updates: https://t.co/SmBx3a2R2z
— Alexandria City Public Schools (@ACPSk12) January 30, 2020
(Updated at 12:40 p.m.) A proposal to co-locate affordable housing on the grounds of MacArthur Elementary is unpopular with PTA members.
The MacArthur PTA recently conducted a survey asking how current and future MacArthur families felt about co-locating housing or city facilities on the site of the soon-to-be renovated school, an idea encouraged by the city and under consideration by the School Board.
The survey yielded over 450 responses, according to PTA president Kristina Seppala, and revealed mixed feelings about some parts of the proposal and misgivings about housing in particular.
“About half of the respondents are open to non-housing co-location services such as a recreation center or day care services,” Seppala told ALXnow. “However, while open to other co-location options, a full 70% do not support housing on the site under any circumstance.”
Supporters say that Alexandria is experiencing an affordable housing crisis and must consider a variety ways to build more, including on government-owned land. At a joint meeting of city and school officials earlier this week, however, school board members expressed skepticism about adding housing to the MacArthur project at this stage in its planning. The school board is slated to vote on concept plans for MacArthur at its Feb. 6 meeting next week.
The PTA’s board has not yet taken a formal position on the matter and will take feedback from the survey into account when it does.
“I applaud the city and schools collaborating to provide services to the community,” Seppala said. “However, given the timeline for the Douglas MacArthur new build, the absence of a Joint Facilities Master Plan to guide the process of implementation, and a lack of substantial community input, it is not prudent to push housing forward on this project. There are simply too many unanswered, complex questions without the luxury of time to answer them thoroughly.”
The city council is ultimately expected to vote on the final design for MacArthur in September.
Alexandria is experiencing an affordable housing crisis, city officials say, and that means using school property to try to address the crisis should remain on the table.
School officials, however, are reluctant to rush through plans for housing at schools currently set for redevelopment.
City Manager Mark Jinks said at a meeting last night that he still wants the city’s public school system to evaluate possibilities to co-locate affordable housing options on the grounds of schools slated for renovation.
“The most important thing is looking at the site and saying what’s possible and what’s not,” Jinks said. “Every single unit makes a difference.”
At a contentious joint meeting between city and school officials Monday night, school staff were asked to evaluate the feasibility of adding workforce and affordable housing to two concept plans under consideration for Douglas MacArthur Elementary School before the school board votes on a plan on Feb. 6.
Mayor Justin Wilson said that any plan proposed by staff that would negatively impact schools or their construction timelines should be shelved.
“But if we can have some consideration quickly — it sounds like in the next month or two — let’s see what’s possible,” Wilson said.
School Board Chair Cindy Anderson said that she and her colleagues were unaware that the city was contemplating such measures.
“I think we want to have our ducks in a row on this, but we’re not the housing administration, we’re the school system,” Anderson said. She recommended that the board’s work session with council in March be devoted to discussing the issue.
“I don’t think that rushing through some sort of process at this point is going to really help either the city or the schools. I think it would potentially damage and taint any process going forward,” said Anderson.
The issue created controversy last week when a feasibility study for George Mason Elementary School was mistakenly released, and included a four story apartment complex with 60 units on school grounds.
The decision about co-locating housing on ACPS property is ultimately up to the school board — the city council can not lawfully determine what goes on school grounds, City Attorney Joanna Anderson said.
Jinks said that any potential plans to co-locate affordable or workforce housing on school grounds will not have a “transformational” change to concepts that the school board approves down the road. He encouraged the school board to go ahead with their vote on MacArthur on Feb. 6 and said that city staff will be working with ACPS staff to determine if there is any opportunity to explore housing options between now and then.
Superintendent Dr. Gregory Hutchings, Jr., apologized for the lack of publicly-available information leading up to the discussion. He said that it will be difficult for the school system to approve a concept plan and then alter it to accommodate housing options.
City and Alexandria School System officials want to be clear: there is no plan to build a four-story housing structure as part of the plan to rebuild George Mason Elementary School.
Last weekend, a feasibility study commissioned by ACPS with architect Studio Twenty Seven Architecture, was mistakenly shared with the George Mason PTA. It showed an outline of an apartment complex in the middle of the George Mason baseball field. The study was quickly shared and denounced by members of the Beverly Hill Listserv, which spread it further and created an uncomfortable situation for ACPS administrators.
“It’s still unclear why the consultant the schools use was asked to show a building on the property as an alternative,” Alexandria Mayor Justin Wilson told ALXnow. “One of the charts that they did shows this building, and so the superintendent pulled it out of the presentation, but one version of the presentation had been sent to the PTA accidentally, and it got out to the public and everyone went crazy.”
“Everyone’s convinced there’s like some conspiracy, but it looks like it was just something that was explored at the staff level and was dismissed but got out,” Wilson added.
Thursday night’s school board meeting was standing room only. George Mason PTA President Sarah Hoffman, speaking on behalf of the school’s executive board, was one of more than 20 speakers at the meeting. She said that the school system should release all feasibility studies regarding future uses at the school site, and called for a sound process that provides accurate information to the public in a timely fashion and incorporates feedback.
“We want to express concerns with how the initial information being discussed tonight was circulated to our community. An incomplete presentation was circulated and we ask that you release the full study being used by all parties involved and any plans being considered at this time so that the community can have an informed conversation,” Hoffman told the board. “Unfortunately, to-date the process has led to confusion and anger… The feasibility study that circulated without context presents numerous concerns with safety, environmental impact, traffic, parking and the permanent removal of green and recreational space that could occur under this current scenario.”
Superintendent Dr. Gregory Hutchings, Jr., apologized and said he hated that the study was released. He said that he plans to stress to city staff at an upcoming meeting that the ACPS mission to ensure the success of city students should remain clearly defined. He will also speak to the George Mason community about the issue at the school on Tuesday, Jan. 28 at 6 p.m.
“On behalf of the school division I do want to apologize for that, because that was not the intent. I also wanted to be able to provide our community as well as the board just with some background on how we got to this place,” Hutchings said. “Initially, when we did our request for proposals back in the spring we did not have any mention of co-location. That was not the intent of the feasibility study in the first place. And it wasn’t until about the fall in October that we had some discussions around co-location opportunities.”
“It was a discussion that actually transpired between the city and the schools and in November we developed a group of staff members, so school staff as well as our city staff who met just to have conversations around what are some potential co-location opportunities,” Hutchings added. “Building a new structure is not something that happens overnight… I hate the fact that that powerpoint presentation went out this weekend to our community.”
School Board Chair Cindy Anderson also apologized and said it is still unclear how the study was shared with the public.
“It’s been a little difficult to trace exactly what happened, but I can assure you that nobody was trying to hide anything from the public,” Anderson said. “My colleagues and I were previously unaware that housing was part of the feasibility report we are discussing this evening. The mayor and council members were also unaware that this was part of this feasibility thing.”
John Burke, a representative of the architect, told the board that his firm is currently working through at least 12 different development options at Cora Kelly School and George Mason.
“We’ve been asked to brainstorm,” Burke said. “We have not turned in the final report, or even an interim report at this point.”
Anderson said that the information about housing during added no additional cost to the study.
“I believe it’s time for both elected bodies — the school board and city council, plus Superintendent Hutchings and City Manager Mark Jinks — to discuss specifics about expectations for co-locations on school sites and work on a process by which these services can be prioritized and the way in which all stakeholders will be engaged,” Anderson said. “Please remember that this is a feasibility study and that we’re at the beginning of the process.”
Thursday was the first time that Alexandrian Carol King has spoken before the school board. King attended several public planning meetings on the construction of a new Douglas MacArthur Elementary School last fall and was also surprised that ACPS was contemplating co-locating residential properties on school grounds.
Her eldest child will begin school at MacArthur this fall, and said that developing affordable housing opens the school to threats from residents who might be doing illicit things.
“I was not aware that was something you were considering,” King told the board. “It was kind of a curve ball… Do you guys have a plan? It seems like it kind of came out of left field. Maybe I missed something, but it wasn’t talked about in the meetings in the fall where you were talking about the designs and were seeking input from parents.”