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Arlington County, Schools Look at Sharing Facilities

Schools can now consider county-owned buildings while looking to meet space needs.

The Arlington County Board and the Arlington School Board agreed Wednesday night to work together to meet the school system’s need for more space for its students.

What this means is that Arlington Public Schools now can consider county-owned facilities in the process of determining how to meet its space needs. The two governing bodies formally agreed on a list of criteria of what and how county buildings could be considered for shared use.

Hypothetically, the school system could determine it could use space in a building at a park, or community center.

Such use would not involve a transfer of ownership.

“It’s great,” said School Board Chairwoman Abby Raphael late Wednesday. “Tonight, overall you can see a tremendous number of areas where we are collaborating. Ultimately both boards are working for what’s in the best interests of the citizens of Arlington County.”

Alison Denton, facilities planner for Arlington Public Schools, called Wednesday’s move “an essential step” in the process of meeting students’ needs.

The school system currently has 20,801 students enrolled in kindergarten through 12th grade. It's at 94 percent capacity and, at the current rate of growth, will reach 100 percent – filling up all of its 23,000 seats – by 2013.

Denton cited 2010 census figures that showed 13 percent growth in children under 5 in Arlington County and birth trends that showed a substantial increase in the number of babies born here during the last few years.

The school system relies on the county government to provide all of its local funding – about 80 percent of the schools’ budget – so the two entities make an effort to keep each other informed about major budget issues and high-dollar building, maintenance and other capital projects.

County Board member Mary Hynes said she and her colleagues originally were worried about meeting the needs of one group of people at the expense of others. While the school primarily serves parents and students, the county serves all of Arlington.

“Once we got there, everybody’s like, ‘That’s exactly what we need to do,’ ” Hynes said. “It took us a while to get there.”

Hynes added: “We’re not going to fix this tomorrow. Where we all want to end up is having more seats for kids (and) improve the facilities they’re in.”

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