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New Jefferson-Houston School Project Moves Forward

Planning Commission sends proposal for new school with improvements to the Durant Center to City Council.

Alexandria’s Planning Commission approved Tuesday a $44-million proposal to rebuild Jefferson-Houston School.

The proposal will go before City Council on Dec. 15.

The final plan calls for a 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 located at the primary entrance of the school. Neither of these structures will exceed 60 feet.

“The proposed height increases are minimal and are not found to create any negative impacts on the surrounding properties,” reads a city document describing the project.

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.

Al Cox, manager of historical preservation with the city’s Department of Planning and Zoning, said the new school takes design cues from some of the Art Deco architecture in Parker-Gray and elsewhere in the city’s east side.

On Tuesday, some neighbors questioned the design of the school, traffic-mitigation plans and the early community outreach surrounding the project. Other residents and several members of the Alexandria School Board praised the plan.

Mark Eisenhour, Jefferson-Houston’s principal on assignment, said regular meetings about the project have been held for months with average attendance around 80 people. Bill Cromley, a real estate developer, called the project “a model of community engagement.”

Alexandria resident Poul Hertel argued the building had “too much of an Arlington-municipal building feel.”

The new building would increase enrollment at the school to somewhere between 620 and 750 students in grades kindergarten through 8th grade, a significant increase from its current enrollment of 364.

Eisenhour said the new school would take on some students from the new development at Potomac Yard. He said some of the students whose families opted out of Jefferson-Houston would be brought back to the school. If approved, the new school could be completed in the fall of 2014. 

“The students deserve the monumental, light-filled structure with amenities equal to those of other schools in ACPS,” said School Board Vice Chair Helen Morris, adding about two-thirds of the classrooms at the current Jefferson-Houston School don’t have windows.  

The Planning Commission unanimously approved the plan.

“I think there has been a lot of thought of putting this project together,” Commissioner Eric Wagner said. He added that some of the concerns expressed Tuesday, including the current academic performance at Jefferson-Houston, were not in the purview of the Planning Commission.

Richard December 07, 2012 at 06:40 PM
"He said some of the students whose families opted out of Jefferson-Houston would be brought back to the school." Voluntarily or involuntarily? This is important.
Drew Hansen December 07, 2012 at 06:42 PM
It was a statement Eisenhour made to the Planning Commission. I will follow up when I get the chance.
Bea Porter December 10, 2012 at 02:01 PM
I attended all the community meetings, there were a total of 45 in attendance, maybe the count of 80 included the camerman. The grades need to improve before spending $36M, and what happened to the other $8M that was originally slated for the new building, $44M total.
Drew Hansen December 18, 2012 at 09:57 PM
Bea, you are correct about the $44 million total. I made the correction.

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