Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Priorities

Last night's final public meeting on the proposed new school for Jefferson-Houston was sparsely attended compared to previous meetings. Undoubtedly everyone is worn out or fed up.

If you didn't attend, the Growler can tell you that you didn't miss much. Lee Quill flashed through a lengthy PowerPoint slide show illustrating a variety of design options for a new school. His presentation included photographs of other institutional buildings and their grounds, many of which were drawn from the Cunningham Quill project portfolio.

The most interesting statements of the night came from Superintendent Dr. Morton Sherman. First, he told us that "if he was a betting man" he'd wager against the ACPS administrative offices moving to the Jefferson-Houston site because it would necessitate underground parking and that might create problems for the neighborhood.

Second, while it was no surprise to hear that Dr. Sherman intends to ask the School Board to include a new Jefferson-Houston school in their proposed capital budget for next year, the Growler's fuzzy ears perked up to hear him add that JH would be his #1 capital priority to present to the School Board on December 9.

Just the previous month Dr. Sherman had stated that a new Patrick Henry Elementary School would be the next ACPS facility to be built. However, last night he switched courses, telling the audience that a new Patrick Henry could be pushed out into the future. He envisions temporary modular units being able to handle enrollment growth at Patrick Henry in the near-term.

This new strategy is undoubtedly intended to squeeze Jefferson-Houston into the existing capital budget by reordering School Board priorities rather than asking for additional money. To pay for an unbudgeted new school, the Council would have to appropriate more funds to ACPS when it is already concerned about potentially unpopular tax increases and worried about its debt ceiling.

The wild card in all of this is the City's West End. Will communities on the other side of Quaker Lane, which are already seething about BRAC as well as the $14 million sunk into the Charles Houston Center, meekly accept another $30 to $35 million taxpayer funds being bestowed upon this neighborhood while their educational and recreational needs appear to go unmet?