Three months of concept work on a new elementary school in North Arlington has turned into five, but school officials remain confident that the project will be finished in time to open by September 2015.
The school's impact on the surrounding neighborhoods — specifically, on the traffic — is a concern, as evidenced during a two-hour briefing the Arlington County Board received Thursday night.
County leaders, too, want the sports fields on the Williamsburg Middle School campus — where the new elementary school will be located — to be true community facilities. So far, Arlington Public Schools doesn't have the money in its budget to realize that, School Board Member Abby Raphael said.
The two bodies also talked about design and community engagement.
"It's easy to get caught up in the small details," Arlington Board Chairman Walter Tejada told Patch later. "I don't see anything that's unresolveable."
Much work remains. By the end of February, Arlington Public Schools will have held 21 public meetings over six months on concept design alone.
"The biggest hurdle right now is that we need to not get in the way of the architect, so they can actually design the building," said John Chadwick, director of design and construction for Arlington Public Schools.
Neighbors will see one small change soon. The county has agreed to stripe the intersection of Harrison Street and North Williamsburg Boulevard to provide for an actual turning lane. That was said to be slated for March.
The general area already sees traffic delays at the Old Dominion-Edison Street intersection during morning drop-off at Williamsburg Middle School. Some residents have called for a traffic signal there.
Wayne Wentz, the county's transportation engineering chief, said driver delays are confined to about 15 minutes a day. In this case, a delay means someone has to wait more than 90 seconds. That level of congestion doesn't meet federal or state triggers to require a traffic signal, he said.
The county could still order one. But Arlington Board Vice Chairman Jay Fisette said the county should be careful about exceptions — once one is made, more and more people may want them. And some residents are concerned a light would drive more traffic onto neighborhood streets, anyway.
Arlington Public Schools has put together $253 million in construction projects to meet the demands of skyrocketing student enrollment. That includes the expansion of three schools and building two new ones — including the one at Williamsburg, which is currently estimated at $43.1 million.
Along with an expansion of Williamsburg Middle that hasn't been put on the approved projects list yet, a total of 1,900 seats are planned for the Williamsburg campus. That compares to just under 1,000 seats now.
Wentz said most future traffic problems likely would be due to the expansion of Williamsburg Middle and less the fault of the new elementary school, which will have a later drop-off time.
Because the school board hasn't approved a boundary for the new elementary school, planners have used data from Nottingham, Tuckahoe and Jamestown elementary schools for their projections.
Fisette asked school officials to double-check their calculations once a boundary is formally approved.
Ron Molteni, who has children in Tuckahoe Elementary and Williamsburg Middle, said the matter boiled down to a minor inconvenience on some people versus providing the best facility for Arlington students.
"It's that simple," he said. "Everybody cares about the neighbors. Everybody's working hard to mitigate the impact."
The school system is expected to submit its plans to the county in late May, starting a three-month permitting process.