Alexandria officials broke ground on a new Jefferson-Houston School on Cameron Street on Tuesday, in what Alexandria City Public Schools Superintendent Morton Sherman believes will be “a new chapter” for the struggling school and its surrounding community.
City Council approved a $44-million proposal to rebuild Jefferson-Houston School in December 2012. The new school is expected to open in fall 2014.
“I think that the whole design of the old school was old school,” said School Board member Ronnie Campbell. “When we looked at the cost of renovating, redesigning the exterior of the building as well as the interior of the building, it only made sense to start fresh and start new.”
ACPS cited rising maintenance costs, student population growth and a need for modern learning facilities as reasons to rebuild the struggling school, which serves pre-K through eighth grade and has been marked as one of six chronically failing schools in Virginia.
Governor Bob McDonnell plans to create a body in July that would have the ability to intervene in the state’s lowest performing schools.
In February, the Alexandria School Board wrote a letter to McDonnell opposing the legislation that created the body.
School Board Vice Chairman Justin Keating said the new facility will be part of the solution to turning the school around.
“Anyone who ever has worked in an office, when you get a new office, it’s somewhere you want to go everyday to do your work. It’s the same thing with kids,” he said. “This [current] building has curtains for walls. It has no windows in the classrooms. [The new building is] not the only answer to improving this school. It’s not all of the answer, but it’s a big step.”
The current school will be replaced by a light-filled, 130,000-square-foot L-shaped building framing a new turf athletic field. The majority of the school will not exceed 48 feet in height, with the exceptions of a stair tower and an observatory.
The field will be constructed at the site of the existing school along Cameron Street. The plan also calls for improvements to the Durant Arts Center, which sits on the same plot of land as the school. Planners have called the project “a school and recreation campus.” The school’s gym, field, play areas and a white-box theater will be available for community use to varying degrees.
The new building would increase enrollment at the school to more than 700 students. Neighborhoods including Old Town, Del Ray and the new Potomac Yard are in the Jefferson-Houston school district.
“I really think this is going to be a fresh start for these kids and this community, the teachers, the staff, everybody,” Campbell said. “I’m just extremely excited.”
For more on Jefferson-Houston, check out:
- Lawmakers Reject Governor's Amendments to Jefferson-Houston 'Takeover' Bill
- State to Intervene in Jefferson-Houston School
- State Closer to Jefferson Houston Takeover
- School Control Bill Affecting Alexandria Heads to Governor's Desk
- Senate Delays Vote on School Control Measure
- Graf: School Control Bill Could Merit Legal Action
- ACPS School Board Opposes Legislation in Letter to Governor
- Krupicka: State Bills Could Spell Trouble for Jefferson-Houston
- ACPS Selects Partner to Help Jefferson-Houston Close Achievement Ga
- New Jefferson-Houston School Project Receives Approval