City and school officials gathered at the site to mark the beginning of construction on a new Minnie Howard campus. The project is scheduled to be constructed around the current school and open in the 2024-2025 school year.
Capacity at the project is planned to increase to 1,600 students and changed from just 9th-grade students to all high school grades. Some concerns still linger about transportation between the two campuses, which involves crossing the very busy three-way intersection at West Braddock Road, King Street and North Quaker Lane.
School Board Chair Meagan Alderton said the Minnie Howard project is a new standard for Alexandria school development.
“This project isn’t just an example of space for kids,” Alderton said. “We started this project thinking about: what type of educational community do we want our high school to be? This is one small part of a bigger project that is ongoing. When this building opens, we will have a high school that is designed to meet the needs of each and every kid.”
Alderton said future school development will also need to incorporate educational program elements into the school design.
Emily Milton, a student representative on the School Board and a junior at Alexandria City High School, reflected fondly on her experience at Minnie Howard, though like many students Milton’s time at the school was cut short by Covid.
“Both my parents attended T.C. Williams High School,” Milton said. “[My friends and I] were so excited to be high schoolers. I was only at Minnie Howard for half the time I was supposed to, due to Covid, but I still had some of the best months of my life here. We got to attend homecoming, winter formal, and all the sports games as real high school students.”
Photo via Canek Aguirre/Twitter
(Updated at 3:45 p.m.) After 20 years of planning, work has started on the Potomac Yard Metro station.
Officials past and present came together at 2 p.m. today (Thursday) at the future Potomac Yard Metro station, currently the parking lot of Regal Potomac Yard movie theater.
The goal is to have the station opened by March 2022.
“This has been a quarter-century in the making,” Mayor Justin Wilson said, who then jokingly quoted former Vice President Joe Biden. “This is a big… deal.”
The Potomac Yard Metro station is helping to spur new development throughout the area, including a new Virginia Tech campus and a new mixed-use redevelopment where the Potomac Yard Shopping Center is today. Amazon’s HQ2 in Arlington was also cited during the ceremony several times as a new development bound inextricably to the Potomac Yard Metro station.
Wilson credited former Mayor Patsy Ticer, who died in 2017, with leading the fight in the 1990s to keep a Washington Redskins stadium from being built at the site. Wilson then recognized the string of mayors that followed her: Kerry Donley, Bill Euille, and Allison Silberberg for each pushing the effort to have the station built forward.
Wilson also credited staff, particularly City Manager Mark Jinks, and local residents.
“This station will happen because of the persistence of residents,” Wilson said. “This will be their station.”
Not all of those residents are happy with the way the station is currently structured. A southern entrance to the station was initially promised to local residents, but swelling costs for the site resulted in the entrance being eliminated. Almost as controversial as the change was the revelation that members of the City Council and staff privately knew about the change but continued to say publicly said the south entrance was still planned.
A group of local residents were at the groundbreaking with a banner and signs demanding the south entrance be restored. The entrance has continually been brought up in the Potomac Yard Working Group meetings, including earlier this week on Tuesday, but while a ramp may be built from the southern neighborhoods to the area outside the station, it’s not the true southern entrance many residents are hoping for.
Staff said at the meeting that changing the design now to include a new southern entrance would significantly increase the cost of the project.
“What is annoying is that they sold us a bill of goods and it was a lie,” said Michael Whitehead, a nearby resident.
“It’s been a frustrating process,” said Adrien Lopez, a leader in a group of local residents calling for southern access to be restored.
On the dais, Mila Yochum, President of the Potomac Yard Civic Association, recognized the ongoing debate but said that local leaders shouldn’t mistake it for a lack of excitement about the Metro station.
“We’re excited to be a part of [this] development,” Yochum said. “I can’t wait to walk down to my favorite restaurant. I’m eager to see the station come to completion and we will continue to work on a southern entrance.”
The groundbreaking is set for Tuesday, Dec. 19 from 2-3 p.m at the future northwest entrance, near the Regal Potomac Yard movie theater, which is nearing the end of its run. The theater is not included in the new Potomac Yard plans.
“Today’s announcement is a major milestone that has been a quarter-century in the making,” said Mayor Justin Wilson, of the groundbreaking. “Alexandria has worked closely with Metro and our federal and state partners to plan for a new Potomac Yard Metrorail Station that will improve mobility, promote economic development, and protect our environment. We now officially move from planning the station to constructing the station.”
Construction for the project had been derailed by earlier delays, but is scheduled to open in early 2022.
The groundbreaking follows the conclusion of a permitting process by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. Preliminary construction activities began earlier this year, but a press release by the city noted that the station will be subject to additional development review and other local permits over the next year.
According to the press release:
The new Potomac Yard Metrorail Station, to be built on Metrorail’s Yellow and Blue Lines between the existing Braddock Road and Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport stations, will provide an extensive range of benefits for Alexandria and the surrounding community, including walkable access to regional transportation systems for neighborhoods in the northeast area of the city. The station is also expected to generate billions of dollars in new private sector investment over the long term and eventually support 26,000 new jobs and 13,000 new residents. The Potomac Yard area represents the most significant redevelopment and tax base growth opportunity for Alexandria, with the potential to achieve the vision for an urban mix of uses near transit.
The $320 million station will be funded through a variety of sources – including new tax revenue from development in Potomac Yard over the next 40 years, funding from the Northern Virginia Transportation Authority, and developer contributions. The station is scheduled to open in early 2022.
Photo via City of Alexandria