Wakefield Project accommodates student overflow in Arlington

ARLINGTON, Va. (WJLA) -- Wakefield High School, due to open in September, looks more like a construction site than a place of learning due to a massive, $100 million construction project designed to help keep pace with the Arlington School District’s rapidly growing student population.

"We have to put the kids somewhere," says Jennifer Denino, a Glebe Elementary language teacher, and a mother of two. "Every kid is entitled to a public education, and so we have to give them more space."

The Wakefield Project is being finished up, even as Arlington’s student population is growing to record levels. District officials project that by the fall term, 23,496 students will be attending classes in Arlington schools.

"We're growing by over the size of an elementary school every year," says John Chadwick, an assistant superintendent in charge of facilities and operations. "We're growing by 800 students a year, consistent with our projections."

In order to keep up, the district is using 125 portable or “relocatable” classrooms. Arlington has added 25 new ones this year.

"I don't think that helps, getting into a stuffy trailer," declares J.P. DeFranco, a Wakefield senior.

DeFranco is among the lucky ones. Students at the brand-new Wakefield won’t be using portables. But he says that most students will learn to adjust.

"I don't think that they're going to mind that much. I think they're there to learn and to have friends."

Washington-Lee High now has four of the units. Two more are being added this year. To create more space, the district has also converted old teachers’ lounges, computer labs, and even library space into classrooms.

Denino says teachers and staffers are learning to be creative in dealing with the space shortage.

"People who teach Spanish programs, or whatever, they're now on carts and they go into classrooms and teach, rather than having a separate room," she says.

The district's own figures show by the 2017-2018 year, it's schools will be over 100% capacity, about 3,476 seats short. So, it has also launched an ambitious building program. Washington-Lee and Yorktown high schools will each see about $100 million in improvements. The district will have two new elementary schools, and a third will be expanded to allow 225 more students.

The total cost? About $480 million.

"Actually, Wakefield needed the facelift," says Sherese Henry, an Arlington mom. "This is well deserved."

"I feel like we're getting better schools, so we have to go through this process," adds Kyersten Ellis, a Wakefield Sophomore.

School officials say the portable classrooms will likely be a part of the Arlington district’s future, because they allow flexibility in case population trends change.

"We don't want to be caught with more school space than we actually need," Chadwick says. "The relocatable classrooms are a good way of handling that situation."

He says the new Wakefield High School will be ready in time for the first day of classes - the first Tuesday after Labor Day.