We need a new high school to meet the challenge of enrollment growth.

With 1,380 students today, Arlington High School is already reaching capacity. But enrollment has not yet reached the peak. Based on current K-8 enrollments, the high school may have 1,620 students by 2022, and that number will continue to rise. By 2027, projected high school enrollment could reach 1,857.

Today’s high school building cannot accommodate growth on this scale.

The new high school has a design capacity for 1,755 students. In the event that enrollment exceeds this number, the plans for the new high school provide flexibility for modifications to accommodate further enrollment growth.

These numbers matter — a lot. Already, science labs are undersized and overcrowded. Students’ course options are constrained because there are too few classrooms for flexible schedules. The high school cafeteria seats only 375, even though there are 450 students per lunch period. Band and chorus are in such small rooms that the whole ensemble cannot rehearse in the same space. This situation is getting worse every year, and it will continue to worsen until students have a new building that can accommodate all of them.

 

We need a new high school because the current building is old and deteriorated.

AHS’s first building was constructed over a century ago. The last significant renovation was in 1981. The building is showing its age. Since it was not conceived of as a whole building, its layout is inefficient and difficult to navigate.

In 2013, an independent accrediting agency placed AHS on “warning” status. Among its findings:

  • More than 30% of classrooms are inadequate and interfere with instruction. Many have obstructed seating.
  • Old, under-sized science labs create hazardous conditions for students.
  • Limited meeting spaces and dispersed classrooms obstruct faculty and student collaboration.

Failure to address these deficiencies would have serious consequences.

That’s not all. A 2013 audit showed that many facility and mechanical systems are beyond their expected service life or in need of extensive repair.

In addition, students and faculty struggle with inadequate wiring and erratic temperatures. On occasion, classroom temperatures climb to more than 100 degrees or dip as low as 40 degrees. Installing essential new technology is difficult. There is a single elevator for the entire 392,000 square foot facility. It is impossible to secure the many entrances to the building, compromising safety.

The list goes on. The current facility has served Arlington and its families and students for a long time, but it is no longer up to the task.

 

We need a new high school because educational standards have changed.

The current building is an obstacle to teaching and learning.

Education standards have changed in the forty years since the high school building was last renovated. State and federal curriculum standards have moved from teaching information to teaching how to find, analyze, and make decisions based on information. As standards change, the facilities needed to support those standards also change.

Today’s education requires flexible spaces that can be used both for small group collaboration and large group debate and discourse. For project-based learning, students need space to create and spread out.

Technology must be integrated into the work our students do because that is the world we live in. These features are essential for delivering the sort of education our students must have to succeed. The new design meets these standards. The old building cannot.

These curriculum standards are not specific to Arlington. Every school in the state is expected to deliver this kind of education. Part of the Massachusetts School Building Authority’s mission is to help design and construct “educationally appropriate, flexible” schools. The proposed school is exactly that.