VHCA Board Members Meet With APS Superintendent; Discuss Overcrowding Task Force Recommendations

Inman Middle School

By: Jack White, VHCA Board President

In December, the Inman Task Force formed by school board representative Cecily Harsch-Kinnane issued a report on the two issues it was asked to consider: (1) whether a 6th or 8th grade academy would be a better short-term solution for the Grady Cluster’s overcrowding, and (2) potential sites for such an academy. The Task Force preferred a 6th grade academy and named three possible sites, two of them in Virginia-Highland (one next to the existing Inman building, and the other being the block south of Cresthill Avenue and west of Monroe now occupied by about eight private homes that would be torn down.)

The VHCA Planning Committee asked Aaron Fortner – the principal at Market & Main and our municipal consultant for several years – to analyze a number of important factors outside the purview of the Task Force, particularly the traffic, policy, and planning implications and impacts of construction at the two VaHi locations. His firm compared such outcomes at those two sites to a third location also recommended (less enthusiastically) by the Task Force: the Howard School located in the Old Fourth Ward.

The Market & Main analysis is available here.

Well aware that APS will consider many factors in reaching this decision and facing an announced end-of-January deadline, we very much wanted this information and these concerns to be in front of APS Superintendent Erroll Davis before he acted. Accordingly, members of the VHCA Planning Committee met with Superintendent Davis and other APS officials last week to present the findings contained in the Market & Main report.

Our discussion with Superintendent Davis was cordial, detailed, and thorough; he specifically asked about the history of the neighborhood, the Civic Association, and its historic support of public education. Davis spoke carefully, as he always does, making several key points: (1) His anticipated January deadline for a decision will not be met; (2) He is looking for a site that could accommodate a middle school in the future, though he did not say that one would be built; (3) None of the locations recommended by the Task Force is ideal, and APS is reviewing many options, including the original three sites.

The Market & Main report makes no recommendation as to what location should be picked, but we are aware that the conclusions in it may not be welcomed by anyone who believes that expansion at the Inman or Monroe sites is the only acceptable outcome to the attendance challenges facing the Grady cluster. The report focuses on the overall impacts of building in VaHi – increased traffic, non-conforming land use, congestion – and the implications that flow from them, specifically those that might contribute over the long run to permanently altering the residential character of the neighborhood.

Such challenges exist in many contexts independent of possible new school construction. The popularity of the Beltline has heightened traffic/pedestrian conflicts on an already-stressed Monroe (where both the Piedmont Heights Master Plan and the Beltline Plan suggest changes), and pedestrian safety on Briarcliff is a very real concern for those walking to SPARK. A separate public meeting next week at Inman Middle School will hear about pending traffic changes intended to relieve congestion on Ponce.  The neighborhood has existing un-built commercial and residential capacity, the eventual utilization of which is very likely to exacerbate today’s traffic challenges.

The permanent impacts of unplanned construction in our neighborhood outside the Comprehensive Development Plan require especially thorough consideration. Our primary goal – as it is frequently is in such matters – was to examine the traffic and policy issues in a professional context with an independent planner, and that is what Market and Main provided.

As always, please let us know your thoughts about the report. Aaron Fortner will be at our next VHCA meeting (February 11th, 7 PM, Ponce library) to amplify on his work.

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