Note: On June 18, the Arlington Public School Board unanimously approved a “letter of intent” to sell Wilson School and the surrounding playfield to Penzance Properties, an adjacent property owner. The Wilson School building was included on Preservation Arlington’s 2013 list of the county’s Most Endangered Historic Places. As Preservation Arlington continues to monitor the developing situation regarding the Wilson School, we invited this guest post on the situation by Mark Antell, a longtime community advocate for the school.
In a single action, the Arlington County School Board has abandoned previous statements on the Wilson School without effective notice and therefore without input from the public. This action was under “New Business” on their June 18 agenda and there was no public hearing.
The decision, and the manner in which it was made, flies in the face of comments School Board Member James Lander said as recently as May 2013:
“I value the property and preservation of green space at the site….I will continue to be a vocal advocate for maximizing the effectiveness of the Wilson school and integrating that site as part of our long term planning for our projected growth in student population. Furthermore, I will continue to be accessible, available, and connected with your civic associations to better ensure communication between the school system and the residents in Rosslyn are partners in the conversations before decisions are made.”
A few weeks before the board meeting, Arlington County staff presented a proposed “Wilson School Special Planning Study” to several civic association leaders. Here is a link to the proposed plan. The County proposal is similar in most respects to a development plan for the Wilson School that APS put forward and then subsequently withdrew about seven years ago due to citizen dissatisfaction.
The County proposal:
* The study area covers the Wilson School and playfield, the Rosslyn Fire Station and parking lot, the Rosslyn Heights Park (tot-lot and basketball court), the path that connects North Rosslyn to Wilson, plus the committed affordable Queens Court apartments.
* The proposed plan calls for “at least” 60,000 square feet (1.5 acres) of community space, which is less than what is available now, without any evaluation of the availability and need for recreation space in our surrounding community.
* The plan takes little note of the 2009 recommendation of Arlington’s Historic and Landmark Review Board that the school and playfields be designated as an historic site, a recommendation that the School Board shot down.
* The plan involves development of two thirds of the site at levels common in Rosslyn.
* There is no mention of retaining the existing pedestrian routes on the site.
* The plan includes construction of 200 units of affordable housing, which will most likely included redevelopment of the existing Queens Court apartments, which have also been designated as having historic consideration. The plan also jeopardizes nearby affordable housing (particularly the Crestmont and LeMar apartments). The net gain of affordable units is only 50.
The Wilson School is an early Arlington school originally built in 1910. Designed by prominent Richmond architect Charles Morrison Robinson, it survives as the oldest extant school building in Arlington County that is still owned and maintained by Arlington Public Schools and is the last remaining example of early 20th-century institutional architecture in the Rosslyn and Fort Meyer Heights neighborhood.
If you’d like to learn more about Wilson School and why it should be preserved, view “Save Wilson School,” a short film available on YouTube.