The day has finally come for Douglas MacArthur Elementary School.
On Monday, members of the community and Alexandria City Public Schools leadership watched as a demolition crew started tearing down the World War II-era building.
Lisa Porter lives across the street from MacArthur, and watched the demolition from her front yard with a group of neighbors. Porter’s two children went through MacArthur, and she has been involved with the school for 15 years.
“We are thrilled to finally see this happen,” Porter said. “We started hearing about this when my son was in kindergarten, and now he’s in college.”
School Board Chair Meagan Alderton said she would never forget making the “emotional” decision on MacArthur’s fate.
“Man, oh man, was it worth it,” Alderton said. “Because we are moving forward, we are excited. And I can’t wait to have this brand new building and have our teachers and our staff and our families be allowed to have what they deserve. It’ll be amazing when this place is a memory and we have new building up here.”
ACPS Superintendent Gregory Hutchings, Jr., said construction is on schedule to reopen the school in Jan. 2023. In the meantime, MacArthur students are using the old Patrick Henry Elementary School as swing space.
“I’m sorry that our students and our families were not able to be here because of the COVID restrictions,” Hutchings said. “But this was a wonderful occasion. It was a long time coming and we’re so excited for the next chapter of Douglas MacArthur.”
Design-wise, MacArthur’s three-level “Forest” plan was chosen last year. It is currently set back from Janneys Lane, putting classrooms at the rear of the building and providing a view of nearby Forest Park.
City Councilwoman Amy Jackson was also there. Last month, Jackson made an impassioned plea for movement on construction.
“I’m very excited,” she said. “The community engagement has been amazing. It’s going to be an exciting time for an exciting school.”
MacArthur Principal Penny Hairston said that the demolition was a long time coming.
“There is a rich legacy here, and this is very exciting,” Hairston said. “It’s a very emotional thing to see this happen.”
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With summer officially in full swing, Alexandria City Public Schools is working to reopen its playgrounds to the public.
“All other playgrounds will remain closed for the time being to complete necessary repairs to ensure the safety of playground visitors,” Helen Lloyd, ACPS director of communications, wrote to parents. “Repairs are anticipated to begin early next week and affected playgrounds will reopen once deemed safe to do so.”
One parent who spoke anonymously was miffed that the playground at Mount Vernon Community School was closed.
“Closed for maintenance?” the parent said. “Seriously? Couldn’t that have been done while everything was closed?”
Playgrounds will be considered open only if and when their gates are unlocked and signs are erected telling folks that restrictions have been lifted.
Lloyd told ALXnow that the coronavirus has slowed down operations, and that as playgrounds are being cleaned and renovated, there is no timeline which playgrounds will open and when.
“We understand families really want to be on the playgrounds,” Lloyd said. “We’re working as quickly as possible to make that happen.”
By September 2020, ACPS plans to have to schools open on the lot where the former Patrick Henry Elementary School currently sits (4643 Taney Lane). The plan use the former Patrick Henry building for Douglas MacArthur students while the Douglas MacArthur school is under construction, with the new temporary school called Douglas MacArthur on Taney Avenue. The school will remain there until the new Douglas MacArthur opens in 2023.
The plans have controversial in the past, with some nearby residents expressing concerns about the new levels of traffic the schools would bring to the nearby two-lane Latham Street, and Peacock and Polk Avenues.
“It was adversarial before the vote, but after everyone has shown up to these meetings trying to find solutions and figure out how best to make this work,” staff said at a meeting last Thursday. “I think it’s been helpful and a lot of that collaboration is happening.”
The project will include staggered start times for the two schools, with the Douglas MacArthur School opening and closing a half-hour after Patrick Henry Elementary to safely allow bus traffic from one school to exit before the other arrives. ACPS currently faces a bus driver shortage, as noted by almost daily warnings on the school system’s website, staff said the schools will ultimately have to look for additional contractors.
School staff also recommended a two-way circulation system at the school’s single, central loop. Parents dropping off or picking up children at Patrick Henry would travel counter-clockwise at the outer level of the circle while pick-up or drop-off for Douglas MacArthur would run clockwise at the inner ring of the circle.
Approval for the use of the existing Patrick Henry facility as swing space, while construction is underway on the new facility, is scheduled to go before the City Council for approval next month. The Douglas MacArthur design kickoff meeting is planned for tomorrow (Tuesday) at 6 p.m. at Douglas MacArthur Elementary School (1101 Janneys Lane).
Image via Alexandria City Public Schools