Monday, July 26, 2010


In trying to sort out how the Jefferson-Houston redevelopment plan suddenly loomed up before us, it's necessary to step back and look at a chronology. All of these dates are drawn from public records, news accounts or messages distributed through listserves with members of the community.

A couple of things to note: constantly shifting pricing for renovating or rebuilding Jefferson-Houston and the extent to which this is driving land use issues; the changing cast of characters and the question of transparency; and past commitments to capital improvements for the school.

So what do readers think?

May 7, 2007: The City Council approves the FY 2008 budget, including a five-year Capital Improvements Project (CIP) budget with $4.2 million in capital improvements for Jefferson-Houston slated for FY 2013 (see Table 2). Nothing is allocated for a new ACPS headquarters building.

December 2007: ACPS issues a white paper outlining five different options for the Jefferson-Houston facility involving either remodeling or reconstruction. Besides the elementary school and Head Start, other uses that are envisioned include a "special needs" center for 40 students and a city-wide preschool.

Pricing for the options ranges from $6 million for a single new elementary school for 400 students (Option #4) to $21 million to build a new school and remodel the existing building for the special needs center and Head Start (Option #9). Upcoming roof, HVAC and other major renovations needed around 2013 are estimated at approximately $3 million.

December 12, 2007: In a memo to Council, City Manager James Hartmann discusses a proposal from the Tauber Foundation to donate West End land parcels to the City in exchange for a $5 million reimbursement and demolition costs. The gift would leave the City with a net donation of land worth $10 to $25 million. The City Manager proposes using the parcels to build a new ACPS headquarters, noting "The Schools have found that their currently leased Beauregard office site works well as a location for School administrative services." The memo also states it will be "several years" before the planning process even begins, much less construction.

January 2008: Helen Morris and a small group of interested parents launch the Jefferson-Houston listserve to discuss how to turn the school around.

April 10, 2008: At a School Board meeting chairman Claire Eberwein notes that "the City/Schools Committee met and determined that they are not ready to take proposals for locations for a future Alexandria preschool. The proposal to convert Jefferson-Houston into a
dedicated preschool will therefore be removed from the slate."

May 2008: Council approves the FY 2009 budget, which increases the CIP budget line item for Jefferson-Houston to $6.1 million for FY 2013. This sum is almost identical to the amount listed in the 2007 white paper as the cost to build a new school.

June 2008: Dr. Morton Sherman is selected as the new ACPS superintendent. He reports for duty August 15 and begins making the round of schools and PTAs in the fall.

September 29, 2008: The U.S. Department of the Army announces that it has selected the Mark Center, near ACPS headquarters on N. Beauregard Street, as the site for 6,400 relocated defense jobs, prompting ongoing outrage in Alexandria's West End about the traffic impact on local neighborhoods and commuters.

Date unknown (circa late 2008): With the dramatic drop in stock values due to the burgeoning crisis in financial markets, the Tauber deal with the City is off because the tax write-off advantages behind the donation have evaporated. No announcements are ever made that the land offer has been withdrawn.

January 2009: Dr. Sherman begins discussions with City Manager Jim Hartmann about a possible public-private partnership. (According to statements made by Dr. Sherman at the June 22, 2010 ACPS-Council work session, talks with Mr. Hartmann had been ongoing for "18 months," which therefore dates the initial dialog to early 2009.)

February 2009: Ms. Morris announces her candidacy for the School Board.

April 27, 2009: Council approves the FY 2010 budget, which again includes $6.1 million for Jefferson-Houston for Jefferson-Houston in the CIP for FY 2013. There is still no funding in the budget for a new ACPS headquarters building.

May 5, 2009: Ms. Morris is elected to the School Board as a representative of District A (eastern Alexandria).

June 15, 2009: Mayor Euille attends a UKSNA monthly meeting and according to the minutes he "assured UKSNA members that physical improvements to the [sic] Jefferson Houston were a major priority and, now that the curriculum and other stabilization measures have been implemented by the school board, the city is now poised to implement and fund a capital improvement program at Jefferson Houston even in these difficult economic times." The minutes are written by UKSNA Secretary Helen Morris.

July 17-18, 2009: The newly elected School Board, according to Michael Lee Pope's recent article in the Gazette, are briefed about the possible public-private partnership. There is no recording or minutes for the briefing, which apparently took place at a closed School Board retreat.

October 28, 2009: At an ACPS Budget and Audit Committee meeting, Ms. Morris agrees to research the issues surrounding the establishment of educational foundations, which is a component of a future public-private partnership.

November 7, 2009: ACPS presents its capital budget needs at a City Council budget retreat. Jefferson-Houston is listed as needing replacement at a cost of $13 million in FY 2012.

December 3, 2009: At a School Board meeting (02:15:30), Ms. Morris reports on the Budget Committee's work since the July retreat in researching public-private partnerships and the feasibility of setting up an educational foundation. Committee chair Arthur Peabody states that Ms. Morris is doing the committee's "yeoman work" on these topics.

January 12, 2010: ACPS conducts a work session on the proposed Jefferson-Houston public-private partnership and for the first time word gets out in the press that a redevelopment plan is under consideration, some six months after it is first discussed by the School Board.

February 9, 2010: ACPS presents its proposed CIP budget for FY 2011 to the City. In FY 2010, ACPS asked for $86 million and received $64 million. With the FY 2011 budget, the first full budget cycle under Dr. Sherman, the request is now $139 million for a "Needs-Based" CIP budget or $127 million for a "Constrained Resources" CIP budget. Rising enrollment is being blamed as one of the principal drivers behind the increases.

Funding to replace Jefferson-Houston is no longer present. Instead, around $70,000 is allocated each year until FY 2013 to "replace failed components of the building’s fa├žade, including mortar joints, precast panel repairs, and failed caulk joints. This work is necessary to maintain the existing facility until the new building is constructed."

The document states "This facility is proposed to be replaced in FY 2014 with a new mixed use complex" that "to be constructed under a Public Private Partnership Agreement with an alternative source of funds" and would include new ACPS headquarters offices.

"The school portion of this building would cost approximately $21.5 million in FY 2013-2014" and if replacement plans fall through ACPS would need to pay $8.85 million for "roof replacement, HVAC Systems replacement, fire alarm system replacement, ADA and plumbing upgrades, replacement of the carpeting throughout the building, and repainting of the entire facility... Based on this cost for renovations and systems replacement versus the cost of a new facility, construction of a new facility is more economically feasible."

April 7, 2010 : ACPS representatives, including Dr. Sherman and Ms. Morris, are invited to make a presentation to West Old Town Citizens Association to explain the proposed redevelopment. The initiative for the meeting comes from the civic association not from ACPS, and ACPS provides no specifics on how much density the project will require.

May 3, 2010: City Council approves the FY 2011 budget, including a capital budget for ACPS of $106.2 million over six years and $158.1 million over 10 years.

June 22, 2010: ACPS-Council work session on the proposed Jefferson-Houston redevelopment and public-private partnership. The introductory remarks are made by Dr. Sherman and Ms. Morris. ACPS's Margaret Byess and Planning and Zoning's Gwen Wright staff make a joint presentation, with slide #25 showing that it will require nearly 1.2 million sf of development and an FAR of 2.5 to hit the sweet spot where the project (which now includes ACPS HQ) is financially feasible.

July 19, 2010: Record attendance at the July 2010 Upper King Street Neighborhood Association meeting, where residents strongly express their objections to the proposed redevelopment and its impact on the neighborhood.