Saturday, March 28, 2009

HeraldTrib Today: March 28, 2009

Schools Budget Change Means Barrett Will Not Get Full-time Positions…

This story was updated Sunday evening, March 29. --ST

You may have already seen the email from Melanie Wilhelm, the K.W. Barrett Elementary School PTA president.

She wrote:

“Specifically, the plan calls for changing a long-established rule that once an elementary school’s enrollment exceeds 500, five key positions are upgraded from part-time to full time positions. The proposed budget raises the threshold for this upgrade from 500 to 550. This change means that Barrett, along with seven other schools, will not get the increased staffing despite exceeding 500 students next year. The five positions are:
1. Assistant Principal
2. Principals’ Assistant
3. Gifted and Talented Specialist
4. Reading Specialist
5. Library Assistant”

Principal Terry Bratt brought this to my attention. She said she has been talking with the public schools, and told the superintendent how much she dislikes this change, given that she knew the school would reach 500 students and would get the additional staff.

Part of her worry is that Barrett is close to the 550 mark, but is projected to stay under that. In the past, programming has not been adjusted after the fact, she said. That is, if the school is projected to be 544, it does not get the additional staffing even if the real number is 550 in September. It is unclear if this would continue to be the case.

One major argument of the Elementary Crowding and Capacity Committee last school year was that the APS estimates were notoriously inaccurate. (The ECCC was a countywide parents group looking at relieving overcrowding in some north Arlington elementary schools). APS has underestimated Barrett’s enrollment over the last three years.

I did make one phone call to APS yesterday, but it was not returned. I'll get back to them next week.

CHANGE TO THE ORIGINAL STORY (Updated Sunday March 29, evening):

At some point on Friday, the superintendent's office posted changes to the proposed budget (find them here).

The memo states that state, federal and local decisions have given APS another $6.8 million to work with, allowing the superintendent to reinstate some programs that had been cut or reduced.

This includes the 500-student enrollment level that triggers additional staff. That and other changes are here:

  • The addition of 4 pre-K classes at Hoffman-Boston under the Virginia Preschool
    Initiative. This will not require any additional local funding in the Operating Fund.
  • The return of the enrollment level for the elementary planning factor for nonclassroom positions to 500 from 550.
  • Replacement of the 0.5 science and 0.5 math specialist positions for ESOL/HILT students.
  • Restoration of the 3.0 HVAC positions as well as additional funding for HVAC contract services.
  • Expansion of FLES to one school.
  • Conversion from Styrofoam trays to paper trays in the school cafeterias.
  • The OPEB contribution is increased $900,000 in anticipation of full funding of the FY2010 ARC if the retiree health benefit is capped at two times the current rate.
  • The TSA match is partially restored, increasing from 0.2% to 0.4%.

    County might cut Amphitheatre programming…

    The county tried earlier this decade to make cuts to the Lubber Run Amphitheatre summer programming, and the county manager’s current proposed budget puts it back on the block, saving the county about $16,000, the budget says.

    Last time, people rallied to get the programming back, but I’ll admit I’ve heard and seen very little about this in the ‘hood. Other similar proposed cuts have generated facebook pages and everything. I have not seen that here, but maybe I’ve missed it.

    I don’t know if this is because people see a need to cut somewhere, or if people just don’t know about it. I doubt that people don’t care, but I’m just not sure. Tell me what you think.

    Proposed reductions also affecting the parks countywide: restroom cleaning, trash collection, grass mowing and “general upkeep of park facilities." The county also is looking at relying on in-house staff and volunteers to manage invasive plant removal.

    Arlington Annex Started This Week…

    I am really happy to announce the start of a new partnership with Buckinghamster Vic Socotra. He has a Web site with daily updates that cover history and a fun, quirky look at his life.

    He has agreed to start supplying the HeraldTrib with a pieces called Arlington Annex on a regular basis, though we haven't figured out exactly what "regular basis" means.

    What I like about him is that he's a Buckinghamster through-and-through with his writing. He knows the neighborhood, and its history, and is no stranger to the Virginia Room at Central Library when he's looking for something more. I can't wait to see what else he'll be writing about, but his piece on Columbia Gardens' spooky residents is a great first entry.

    Scroll down to check it out below, or click here to read his Arlington Annex column.

    Bethel Church’s Game Night…

    Saturday April 4, 5:30p.m. 4347 Arlington Blvd (Northeast corner of Arlington Blvd. and George Mason Drive. ) Limited parking at the Red Cross on N. Trenton Street at Arlington Blvd. All are welcome.

    I am inviting anyone with community announcements to send them to me. I will do my best to post them. --ST

    The Week’s Headlines…
    As always, you can scroll down to see all the recent stories, or simply click the links below (if the link doesn't work, scroll down to find the story, and email to tell me what's busted: --Steve Thurston).

    Headlines from Earlier in the Week:

  • Kenmore's Castillo Is APS Teacher of Year
  • Board Trying for Stimulus Money to Fix Glebe's Bridge
  • Arlington Annex: Columbia Gardens Has All Kinds of Spooks
  • Police Notes
  • Labels: , , , ,

    Friday, March 27, 2009

    Castillo Is Arlington Teacher of Year

    The Kenmore Middle School 6th Grade teacher wins kudos county-wide. Christine B. Taylor wins top spot at Swanson Middle School.


    Kenmore Middle School sixth grade science teacher Elizabeth H. Castillo has been named the Arlington Public Schools 2009 Teacher of the Year. Castillo has been with APS for 28 years and at Kenmore for 18 years, an APS press release reported.

    “Elizabeth’s hands-on approach to learning opens students’ minds to new concepts and ideas. She is a role model to students as well as her peers,” said Superintendent Dr. Robert Smith in the release. “Liz has been shaping students in Arlington for almost 30 years. I congratulate her on this well-deserved recognition.”

    Castillo began her career in Arlington as a substitute teacher in 1977. She received her bachelor's and master's degrees at Virginia Tech.

    “Liz treats each child as a unique individual and knows her students well. She presents a quiet enthusiasm and thorough commitment to connect with all students,” said Kenmore principal Dr. John Word in the press release.

    Several years ago, Castillo started the Earth Force green program which involved students testing and making recommendations about how to clean up the Potomac River watershed.

    As a result of her initiatives, Kenmore was named the Capital Region Earth Force School of the Year and Staples Earth Force School of the Year for 2008-09.

    Castillo’s students also had high praise for their teacher. “Not only did Mrs. Castillo do everything she could to help me succeed and earn the grade I wanted, but she was vibrant and nice to everyone,” said Kenmore student Samantha Tigner in the release.

    According to the release, Castillo will serve as the school system’s nominee for the 2009 Virginia Teacher of the Year, and is one of 21 metropolitan D.C. area teachers who will be honored on May 12 at The Washington Post as part of the annual Agnes Meyer Outstanding Teacher Awards sponsored by The Post Company’s Educational Foundation.

    The Arlington School Board will recognize Castillo and the 29 other APS teachers who were named “Teacher of the Year” for their individual schools. The Teacher of the Year reception and recognition program will be held on May 20 at 7p.m. at the Education Center. The program will be aired on Comcast Cable Channel 70 and Verizon FiOS 41 beginning at 7:30.

    The school-based honorees include:

  • Kerry Brown Abbott – Abingdon
  • Amreen Alvi – Drew
  • Amy Apgar – Arlington Traditional School
  • Catherine Anne Baker – Randolph
  • Julie V. Bolin – McKinley
  • Elizabeth H. Castillo – Kenmore
  • Aldoina M. Cooper – Carlin Springs
  • Shannan L. Ellis – Jefferson
  • Martha F. Fishbein – Oakridge
  • Dani Rebecca Greene – Jamestown
  • Ivonne H. Govea – Key
  • Nana Aba W. Guerra –Arlington Science Focus
  • Lisa B. Jackson – Ashlawn
  • Mary Filicetti Kakareka – Barcroft
  • Faylinda Kodis – Claremont
  • Lisa Ann Lee – Stratford Program
  • Albert E. Lewis – Henry
  • Scott Thornton Lockhart – Career Center
  • Debbie McFarland – Glebe
  • Elizabeth A. Minihan – Arlington Mill High School Continuation Program
  • Jeffery A. Pabotoy – Yorktown
  • Nadia Betssy Robles – Gunston
  • Heidi M. Smith – Hoffman-Boston
  • Laurel L. Sheridan – Wakefield
  • Martha Camacho Stewart – Nottingham
  • Christine B. Taylor – Swanson
  • Wendy B. Taylor – Washington-Lee
  • Sherilyn Thulin Wall – Williamsburg
  • Beth Zivic – Taylor

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  • County Board Looking to Stimulus Money to Fix Bridge

    The full project will still have to wait until 2012 or later.

    The Sun Gazette reported about a week ago that the Arlington County board plans to write a letter to Gov. Tim Kaine asking that he use some of the federal stimulus money to fix the Glebe Road bridge over Arlington Blvd., pieces of which broke off and disrupted traffic earlier in the month.

    The letter, which is not finished, will only ask that the state fix the bridge, not that the state fully redevelop the bridge, as has been planned for almost a decade. Nor did the county include a request to redevelop the bridge when they submitted a more formal request to the state for stimulus package monies.

    A widened bridge and exit ramp at Arlington Blvd. and Glebe Road would displace First Class Auto. (File photo. Click to enlarge the image.)

    According to county federal liaison Brian Stout via email, “The short answer is no, we did not include the [full] project in our submissions online for stimulus funding. As currently designed, the project would not be eligible for stimulus funding.”

    The project is not far enough along to be eligible for the funding said the county’s Pat Carrol, adding that projects have to be ready to go at the time of funding.

    “The project is currently planned as a replacement and enhancement project, has an estimated cost of $14 million, and is likely to go to construction in 2012. The full project will improve auto, transit, pedestrian and bicycle access the area – an important point for Arlington,” Mr. Stout’s email said.

    The redevelopment of that bridge and the intersection has been in the plans since 2000. The plan is to widen the bridge and the exit ramps from westbound Arlington Blvd. In an earlier plan the First Class Auto used car lot at that intersection (across N. Glebe Road from the McDonald’s) was scheduled to be taken over and torn down to allow the ramp to expand.

    In 2002, the county planned $25 million for improvements along Arlington Boulevard and Columbia Pike, “including bridges on...Glebe Road at Arlington Boulevard,” a release at the time said.

    A February 2007 VDOT inspection gave the bridge a 5 of 9 “fair” rating, which despite the bad sound of that did not concern professional inspectors.

    “Five is normal, very, very ordinary,” said a federal official in October 2007.

    Related stories…
  • Buckingham Bridges OK. (October 2007)
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    Columbia Gardens Has All Kinds of Spooks

    Arlington Annex with Vic Socotra

    This week, I'm welcoming Vic Socotra as a guest columnist. His "Arlington Annex" will appear regularly. --ST

    Columbia Gardens Cemetery buttresses the eastern end of Buckingham, where the little houses of Ashton Heights end and the garden apartments begin. It’s real Arlington, family-owned and operated since 1917. In those days, the gently-rolling 38 acres were surrounded by small farms.

    In the spring, before the leaves erupt on the mature trees, you can see the stately colonial lines of the main building of the George Schultz Foreign Training Center across the four lanes of concrete of Route 50.

    Back in the day, Route 50 was a two lane road, and there were traffic lights at the intersections with Glebe Road and with George Mason Drive, the formal entrance to the Buckingham Neighborhood. Pedestrians could walk to work at Arlington Hall Station without a mad scramble across fifty yards of high-speed desolation.

    The State Department was not always the tenant of the former Arlington Hall Junior College for Women on the south side of Route 50. It was once home to the most secret installation in the United States Government.

    Unlike massive Arlington National Cemetery to the east, Columbia Gardens is a thoroughly civilian place. But there is a secret story at Columbia Gardens, if you choose to dig around a bit.

    There were some wild and futuristic sample monuments near the sales office of the Thomas & Thomas Monument Company. They have a clear fashion sense in the funerary market, having operated out of the Gardens since 1964.

    The artisans of the Thomas Company are graduates of the Elberton Granite Institute in Georgia, and specialize in both the latest technology and reverence for tradition. They are the only memorial company in the area that specializes in the art of “hand-cut, V-tooled lettering,” with on-site diamond etching.

    Their handiwork is clearly evident in the newer memorials at Columbia Gardens. The older graves, from an agrarian Arlington, are inscribed with rugged Anglo-Saxon names. Towards the back are Germans and Hungarians, and then a wild mixture of South Asian, Muslim, Vietnamese and Ethiopian graves that register the waves of immigration.

    There are some notables in the Gardens, including Francis Eugene Worley (1908-1974), born at Lone Wolf, Okla. He served as the member of Congress for the 18th district of Texas, 1941-50, He resigned abruptly for reasons lost to stone, and died in Naples, Fla.

    The other Congressman present is Charles Noel Crosby (1876-1951), who represented Pennsylvania's 29th District in the years the Buckingham Neighborhood was under construction.

    If you walk toward the western end, there is an odd monument, a boulder, really, rough-hewn. It has a ledge knocked into one end as a seat, and the name “Flynn” carved on the side. Small letters on the ledge say “Sit down, Let's talk.”

    If you do so, you can see a number of Japanese graves, with the characters in Kanji. The dates on the stones—in western numbers—are just right for their owners to have been alive during the big Japanese language project at Arlington Hall, 1942-45, when the Imperial Japanese military codes were cracked.

    There are many stones with Russian names inscribed in Cyrillic, since that was the target of the work at Arlington Hall after World War II.

    They must have worked on many other projects at the Hall that required the skills of native Russian speakers.

    This section of the cemetery is populated with Spooks, left behind when their living comrades moved to Fort Meade.

    Vic is a retired spook who has an abiding interest in the people and places of Arlington. Originally from Michigan, he lives in the Buckingham neighborhood and works in Ballston.
    Photos and story Copyright 2009 Vic Socotra

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    Police Notes March 19 - 26

    These notes are compiled from Arlington County Police Department crime reports. They cover the reports from the Buckingham, Arlington Forest and Ashton Heights neighborhoods. --ST

    March 18: Assault and Battery (Arrest), 4200 block of Wilson Blvd. At 2a.m., a man kicked another man in the face. Police located the suspect near the area of the assault. Khiyar Beshier, 29, of Arlington, was charged with Assault and Battery. He was held on a $2,500 bond.

    March 18: Malicious Wounding, 4200 block of Wilson Blvd. At 12:30a.m., a group of people in a bar started fighting. A bystander was struck by a bar stool and assaulted. The suspects fled the area. The three suspects are African-American men in their early 20s.

    Click the icons for more information. Red=Person-to-person crime; Yellow=person-to-structure/vehicle crime; Blue=stolen vehicle; Purple=vehicle-to-vehicle crime. A dot in the icon indicates more than one suspect or victim. Click here to view larger map.

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    Friday, March 20, 2009

    HeraldTrib Today: March 21, 2009

    Buckingham Shopping Center…

    I’ve spoken with planners at the county about the Buckingham Shopping Center, and they tell me that they have not heard from Georgetown Strategic Capital, so they do not know if the company is still planning to redevelop the commercial buildings on the west side of the corner of N. Glebe Road at N. Pershing Drive. I’ve called Bob Moore, a principal with the company, and my principal contact, and have received no word on their plans.

    This was a partial plan for the building where the Glebe Market now stands, presented in November 2008. (Click to enlarge the image.)

    Last month, the county’s Historical Affairs and Landmark Review Board largely killed the project when they voted down the latest plans from Georgetown Strategic.

    However, the company has not written a letter withdrawing their application for the use permit, a step the company would take if it were to pull out completely, county planners said.

    Last May the company applied for a Certificate of Appropriateness, and for a “Unified Commercial/Mixed-Use Development” use permit, which basically changes the zoning on that corner from strictly commercial to retail/residential buildings that had been planned.

    Peter Schulz, a planner at the county, said that the county would expect at the least a quick letter from the company withdrawing their application for the use permit. The application, he said, is still open.

    Mr. Schulz said that a missing withdrawal letter would not stop another company from attempting to redevelop the area. The owner of the property, the Jenco group (as usual, they have no comment on this), would have the right to look to other developers if they so choose.

    Rebbecah Ballo, with the county’s neighborhood services division, said that she has not heard anything from Georgetown Strategic, either. She works with the HALRB which is concerned with the Certificate of Appropriateness. Georgetown Strategic is not required to send a letter withdrawing that application, she said,.

    The buildings on that corner are zoned “C-2” which means a developer, even Georgetown Strategic if they chose, could redevelop the space “by right” into a commercial space, but any building, or change of current facades would still have to pass muster with the HALRB.

    Related stories…

  • Application for the Certificate of Appropriateness and Use Permit. (June 2008)
  • Project Dies in HALRB Hands. (February 2009)

  • Adam Parkhomenko is my First Amendment Hero…

    I have to give a First Amendment shout-out (WOOT-WOOT!) to Adam Parkhomenko who is running for the 47th District in the House of Delegates--he is one of five Democratic candidates. I have seen his yard signs on public medians along N. George Mason Drive. That’s illegal according to Arlington County election rules. Those rules say that yard signs on public spaces can only go up 31 days before the election. Yet Adam is proud to thumb his nose at it. Here’s an email from Feb. 24:

    “Yard Signs Are Here

    “Three months before the primary election to replace retiring Delegate Al Eisenberg, Adam’s campaign became the first to have yard signs out on medians throughout the 47th district.”

    Did you see that? He wrote, “out on medians.”

    Now, all he needs is someone to sue him, and he can take it all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court, and we’ll see what they have to say about this sort of thing. The highest court has never considered political signs on medians before. I’d love to know what they would do with it.

    In the past, I’ve advocated for two possible changes to Arlington's rules, changes I think would allow for a more equitable use of public space: 1, allow signs for two months before primaries and anytime after Labor Day for a general election in November; or 2, the candidate can choose any 31-day period he or she chooses. 31 days before the election is too late, and too strongly favors candidates who already have name recognition, especially incumbents.

    Related stories…

  • We Need More Yard Signs (click the link and then scroll down, November 2008).

  • Read the H&H Report…

    The kids saw "Race to Witch Mountain" last weekend. The review is here, on our companion site, "The H&H Report," just in time for your weekend viewing pleasure.

    I will admit to thinking this site would be up and running more strongly by now. As many of you know--especially those of you who say to me, "I can get my child to write for it,"--the kids will not take the time without a little extra prodding. I am re-dedicating myself to prodding my own; if you think of it, prod yours!

    I take submissions from any kid who might read the report. Grown-ups may type for them, but feel free to submit in the very child-based voice that they naturally write in.

    I LOVE the drawings that have come with the reviews in the past.

    Reviews and views on anything are welcome--movies, books, plays, etc. My next prodding will be aimed at my daughter, who I hope will pen a review of the Secret Benedict Society books (a new fave in the Thurston house--or, as we like to call it "Asgard").

    As well, I would happily take reviews from reviewers in the middle and high schools in Arlington.

    Police Notes are caught up…

    I let the police notes go for too long (about a month—sheesh!); they’re caught up, and I hope to keep them that way. See the link below.

    Jots and scribbles…

    I’m working on a couple larger stories that I hope to bring to you soon.

    I’ve been checking out Blue Virginia lately. It’s a newish blog run by Lowell Feld, who is much more famous for his role creating the Raising Kaine blog (it helped get Kaine and other Dems. elected). He has been covering the race for the “Fighting 47th” (the House of Delegates seat that five, count ‘em FIVE, Democrats are fighting for. No Republicans have yet to get on the primary ballot.) Good stuff.

    Make sure you check out the comments on the BCCA meeting. Pat Hope, the president of the group, has a couple interesting announcements (the next meeting is in May—since I won’t be teaching Monday nights, I’ll be able to go).

    Also, I’m still looking into the American Service Center. There’s good news for breathable air, from what I can tell so far, and I am trying to get more drawings to help people see their proposed redevelopment (I know how much HeraldTrib readers love drawings).

    Happy Spring! (You know it's around here someplace.) I have seen small batches of robins, but I have yet to see the big flock that usually comes through for a day or two on their way to New York (or somewhere else). Perhaps I missed the big flock. If so, alas.

    About Executive Bonuses…

    I can't help but think the 90 percent tax on executive bonuses is wrong. Why couldn't Congress just ask Treasury Secretary Timothy Geitner to negotiate for some of the money. They probably would have gotten 50 or 60 percent of the money back, maybe more (if they threatened the 90 percent tax).

    I have a contract that said I should have gotten a cost-of-living adjustment to my salary. The Administration of my college contacted the faculty union and said, "Hey, we need to go back to the table." Were we annoyed? Sure, but that's the economic place the country is in. AIG and the government had a contract they had to uphold, but why not just go back to the people involved and say, "Hey, we need to go back to the table" and see what results you get.

    That said, Wall Street really must rethink this pay strategy that allows 40 to 60 percent of an executive's pay to be "bonus." It's not a bonus, really, if you get it no matter what, and the way it's structured now, they get it pretty much no matter what. Sure, the amount shifts, but it doesn't go from being 60 percent of a person's salary one year to 20 percent the next. And if they cannot adjust the bonus at the last minute to make room for something like, say, global economic meltdown, then what is the sense of calling it a bonus--call it what it is, "salary" and then pay them that. If there is money left over, give that as a real bonus.

    The Week’s Headlines…
    As always, you can scroll down to see all the recent stories, or simply click the links below (if the link doesn't work, scroll down to find the story, and email to tell me what's busted: --Steve Thurston).

    Headlines from Earlier in the Week:

  • Police Notes (covering the past month).
  • Police Looking for Impersonator/Thief (It happened in B'ham. No arrest yet, police say).
  • Meeting: BCCA Meets Tonight (Monday March 16--you missed the meeting, but the comments are worth a read)
  • Letter: Thefts At Kenmore Make Cameras Necessary
  • Letter: Heavy-hitting Dems. Support Tobar.
  • Public Announcement: Dems. Need Precinct Captatins in Forest, Heights.

  • On our companion site, the H&H Report…
  • Review: "Race to Witch Mountain"
  • Labels: , , ,

    Thursday, March 19, 2009

    Dems Need Precinct Captains in Forest, Heights

    Precinct Captains serve as the Arlington County Democratic Committee's (ACDC) "Feet on the Street" in their respective precincts.

    Captains are people who believe in Democratic values and are excited about turning grassroots efforts into victory for Democrats! They help to inform neighbors about elections and work to get Democratic candidates elected.

    Some of their activities include:

  • Cultivate and expand a network of enthusiastic volunteers Identify
  • Democratic and swing voters in your precinct
  • Notify current and prospective volunteers about upcoming political events
  • Coordinate volunteers to distribute campaign materials, attend neighborhood visibility events, and work the polls on Election Day
  • Support Democratic candidates by encouraging neighbors to vote

  • Where are precinct captains needed in the 47th?
  • Arlington Forest
  • Arlington View
  • Ashton Heights
  • Clarendon
  • Glen Carlyn
  • Monroe

    Interested in learning more or becoming a Precinct Captain? Contact Nicole Truhe at

    I received this from the Miles Grant campaign. Mr. Grant is running for the Virginia House of Delegates' 47th district. I'm inviting anyone with community announcements to feel free to submit them to me. I'll do my best to post them. I am not planning on running announcements that apply to a single candidate only. Reach me at

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  • Letter: Thefts at Kenmore, Cameras Needed

    Hi, Steve,

    I don't know how much or whether you're interested in including info about Kenmore [Middle School] in the Buckingham HeraldTrib (all of Arlington Forest and part of Buckingham are in the Kenmore boundary, for whatever that's worth), but I thought you might be interested in this info from the Kenmore principal that was posted to the Kenmore listserv:

    "This email is to inform you that in the afternoon on Tuesday, March 17, 2009 six students had cell phones stolen along with a few items of jewelry. This incident occurred while students were auditioning for the Diva dance program after school at about 3:45p.m. The student's possessions were left in the locker room, but not secured in lockers. The administrators and the school's Resource Officer are conducting an investigation. Please remind your child to refrain from bringing expensive items to school and to always make every effort to secure their belongings while at school. I believe that we will apprehend the culprit(s) in this case and we will continue to work towards a creating a climate where these safeguards aren't necessary."

    Our older daughter was NOT among those affected by this most recent incident, though she did have an item stolen from the locker room in February. She told me that she'd heard that the items were taken from book bags and that the book bags were then put in the shower, with the water turned on; thereby destroying the books and papers in them.

    Apparently, the lockers in the locker room are too small for book bags, resulting in many students not securing their bags in that room. (I'm told there isn't enough time between classes to go to the regular hall locker, secure the bag, and then go to the gym locker and change in time for gym - I can't say I've tried timing it though!

    I'm bothered by all of this, not just because of the obvious theft problem, but because at the middle school forum I attended before Emily started at Kenmore, it was represented to be a safe and secure facility. I have my doubts. It seems to me that a solution to the locker room theft problem is to either a) install larger lockers, or b) place cameras OUTSIDE the locker rooms so that it records entries and exists. I'll be suggesting this to the principal but I don't expect him to take any action.

    Stephen Goldman
    Arlington Forest

    I contacted Arlington Public Schools, and Frank Bellavia, a spokesperson, wrote in an email that the items were in purses and backpacks not in lockers. He wrote that students wanted to leave as soon as they were done with the auditions, and since it was after school they thought it was safe to leave them out. Some of the backpacks were put in the showers, and no one has been caught yet, he wrote. --ST

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    Wednesday, March 18, 2009

    Police Notes Feb. 13 to March 17

    These notes are compiled from Arlington County Police Department crime reports covering the Arlington Forest, Ashton Heights and Buckingham neighborhoods. Normally I try to have the police notes on a weekly basis, but it fell through as you can tell. --ST

    Feb. 11: Larceny (Series), 4200 block of Wilson Blvd. Between 4p.m. and 6p.m., an unknown subject stole items from six lockers in the men’s locker room at a gym. There is no suspect description.

    Feb. 12: Unlawful Entry, 4400 block of N. Pershing Drive. At 1:30p.m., an unknown male entered an apartment in a retirement community under the pretext of maintenance work. He did not take any items. The suspect is described as a young African American male wearing all black clothing.

    Feb. 13: Stolen Auto, 4300 block of N. Henderson Rd. License tag number: VA JAF-3903. The car is a 1999, red Chrysler Sebring.

    Feb. 18: Commercial Burglary, 600 block of N. Glebe Road. Between 7:30a.m. on Feb. 18, and 5:30 a.m. on Feb. 19, an unknown subject forcibly entered a business and stole a laptop computer. There are no known suspects.

    Feb. 19: Burglary, 4400 block of N. Henderson Road. At 10:30p.m., an unknown subject removed the air conditioning unit from a window and attempted to climb into an apartment. The home owner yelled for police and the suspect fled. There is no suspect description.

    Feb. 20: Larceny from Auto (Series), 600 block of Glebe Road. Between 8a.m. and noon, three vehicles in a parking garage were broken into. Items were stolen from each. There is no suspect description.

    Feb. 22: Robbery/Malicious Wounding (Arrest), 400 block of N. George Mason Drive. At 9:30p.m., five subjects forced their way into an acquaintance’s apartment. They assaulted and robbed the victim. The suspects were identified and apprehended by police. Shari Weaver, 46, of Annandale; Marvin Weaver, 44, of Annandale; Glean Gonzalez, 36, of Bethesda, Md.; Alistar Lob, 43, of Annandale; and John Franklin, 51, of Annandale were all charged with Malicious Wounding and Robbery. They were held without bond.

    Feb. 23: Stolen Auto, 4400 block of S. 1st Place. License tag number: VA YJA-1287. The van was a 2000, tan Mazda.

    Feb. 27: Robbery, 300 block of N. Glebe Road. At 10:30p.m., a male stated that he had been assaulted and robbed by two African American men. The victim was intoxicated and uncooperative.

    Feb. 27: Commercial Burglary, 700 block of N. Glebe Road. Between 6p.m. on Feb. 27, and 8:30a.m. on Feb. 28, an unknown subject entered a business through a window and stole currency. There is no suspect description.

    Feb. 28: Bank Robbery, 900 block of N. Glebe Road. At 9:30a.m., a man gave a teller a note implying a weapon, and fled the bank with money. Warrants are on file for Bruce W. Higgins, Jr., a 34-year-old white male, 6 feet 1 inch, 250 pounds, with hazel eyes and brown hair.

    March 2: Missile into an Occupied Dwelling (Arrest), 4300 block of N. 4th St. At 1a.m., a man threw a brick into a kitchen through a glass window. Several people were sitting in the kitchen at the time. Police apprehended the suspect. Oscar Ortiz, 26, of Arlington was charged with launching a Missile into an Occupied Dwelling. He was held without bond.

    March 5: Stolen Auto, 4300 block of N. 2nd Road. License tag number: VA XTY-8726. The car was a 1994, black Acura Integra.

    March 6: Robbery, unit block of N. Glebe Road . At 2:30a.m. a man handed his wallet to an acquaintance. When he asked for it back, the suspect pushed him and ran. The suspect is known.

    March 6: Burglary, 500 block of N. Thomas St. Between 9a.m. and 2:30p.m., an unknown male entered an apartment and stole several items. The suspect is a white male of unknown age wearing a black jacket and jeans.

    March 17: Malicious Wounding, 600 block of N. Glebe Road. At 10p.m., a man was leaving a bar when he was struck in the head with an unknown object. There is no suspect description

    March 18: Assault on Police (Arrest), 4200 block of Wilson Blvd. At 1:45a.m., an officer intervened in an argument and a female assaulted him. Jessica Flores, 22, of Arlington, was charged with Assault on Law Enforcement. She was held on a $2,500 bond.

    Red=Person-to-person crime; Yellow=person-to-structure crime; Blue=attacked or stolen vehicle; Purple=vehicle-to-vehicle crime. A dot inside a pushpin=more than one attacker. Click here to view larger map.

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    Police Looking For Impersonator/Thief

    Arlington County Police released this press release. --ST

    ARLINGTON, VA. - The Arlington County Police Department is warning about possible police impersonation. On Feb. 24, on the 300 block of N. Glebe Road at approximately 9:50p.m. the male victim was approached by an unknown man claiming to be a police officer. The suspect was dressed in casual clothes and displayed a gold badge hanging on a chain around his neck.

    The suspect claimed to be investigating drug activity in the area and asked the victim for his wallet. When the victim provided his wallet, the suspect opened it and immediately fled on foot.

    The suspect is described as an African American male, 25 years old, 5 feet, 7 inches, with a thin build and short black hair. He was wearing a black sweater, blue jeans, and a gold badge in a circular shape, on a gold chain around his neck.

    Anyone with information about this or any similar incidents is asked to contact Detective D.R. Cupka of the Arlington County Police Department’s Robbery Unit at 703-228-4193. Callers who wish to remain anonymous can call the Arlington County Police Department TIP Line at 703-228-4242.

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    Letter: Heavy-Hitting Dems Support Tobar

    Steve -

    Just wanted to make sure you know about the three endorsements Andres Tobar picked up on Tuesday [March 12]: [Arlington County Board members] Chris Zimmerman, and Walter Tejada, and [Arlington Public School Board Member] Emma Violand-Sanchez. I understand there may be more announced shortly.

    You can read about it at his site:

    Thank you.

    Kathleen McSweeney
    Lyon Park

    Arlingtonians will choose the Democratic contender in a June 9 primary. Republicans have yet to field a candidate.

    The five candidates, all Democrats, in the race include:

    Miles Grant; Patrick Hope; Alan Howze; Adam Parkhomenko; Andreas Tobar.

    Miles Grant won the support of activist Charlie Conrad earlier this week (March 9 post).

    Adam Parkhomenko won the endorsement of Virginia Sen. Patsy Ticer in the first week of March. Mr. Parkomenko earlier won the endorsement of Al Eisenberg's sons; read the Sun Gazette's story here (from Feb. 19).

    Buckingham Community Civic Association President Pat Hope recently picked up the endorsement of Arlington County Sherrif Beth Arthur and others. Earlier, two county board members and a former delegate gave him their support--read the Sun Gazette story here (from Feb. 17). He has won the endorsement of Elaine Furlow (Feb. 28), a former school board member and chair, and the endorsement of Ted Bilich,Ashton Height's Civic Association President (from Feb. 19).

    They all made news in the Connection on Feb. 3 and again on Feb. 25
    Local Politics: Board Members Take Sides In 47th

    Full Disclosure: I have known Pat Hope for years and consider him a friend.

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    Monday, March 16, 2009

    BCCA Meets Tonight--7p.m.

    Monday March 16, 2009
    7:00 to 9:00p.m.
    4490 N. Pershing Drive (Arlington Oaks Community Center)
    The BCCA meets every other month.


    Friday, March 13, 2009

    Hope Picks Up More Endorsements

    Arlington County Sheriff Beth Arthur; former chairman of the Arlington County Board Joe Wholey; and Kevin Appel, former Arlington County deputy treasurer and former chairman of the Arlington County Democratic Party have all thrown their support to Buckinghamster Patrick Hope in his run for the 47th House of Delegates seat, his campaign wrote in a release.

    "Patrick believes that law enforcement is a core essential service and is firmly committed to making sure Sheriffs Offices across the Commonwealth are fully funded,” Sheriff Arthur said in the release. “He also understands the importance of prevention and jail diversion, having worked to ensure those who suffer receive treatment, recover and avoid repeating the cycle of jail."

    Arlingtonians will choose the Democratic contender in a June 9 primary. Republicans have yet to field a candidate.

    The five candidates, all Democrats, in the race include:

    Miles Grant; Patrick Hope; Alan Howze; Adam Parkhomenko; Andreas Tobar.

    Miles Grant won the support of activist Charlie Conrad earlier this week (March 9 post).

    Adam Parkhomenko won the endorsement of Virginia Sen. Patsy Ticer in the first week of March. Mr. Parkomenko earlier won the endorsement of Al Eisenberg's sons; read the Sun Gazette's story here (from Feb. 19).

    Buckingham Community Civic Association President Pat Hope recently picked up the endorsement of two county board members and a former delegate--read the Sun Gazette story here (from Feb. 17). He has won the endorsement of Elaine Furlow (Feb. 28), a former school board member and chair, and the endorsement of Ted Bilich,Ashton Height's Civic Association President (from Feb. 19).

    They all made news in the Connection on Feb. 3 and again on Feb. 25
    Local Politics: Board Members Take Sides In 47th

    Full Disclosure: I have known Pat Hope for years and consider him a friend.

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    Polar Bears on Library Night

    Second Grade teacher Andrea Donovan takes students and parents on a virtual trip to Churchill, Manitoba. (Click to enlarge the image.)

    K.W. Barrett Elementary School’s Library Night celebrated second grade teacher Julie Schneider’s trip to Churchill, Manitoba Canada to study global warming.

    Students and parents in attendance watched the teacher’s video blog and listened to the book “Winston of Churchill: One Bear's Battle Against Global Warming.” It’s a cute story in which a stogie-smoking polar bear wants to impress upon people the need to save his habitat, but gets the help of his wife only when he agrees to stop smoking!

    Following the watching and reading, students made polar bear necklaces using yarn, glitter and white foam. A good time, as they say, was had by all on Tuesday night.

    Henry and Sam Alves show off their polar bear necklaces with father, Mark. (Click to enlarge the image.)

    Ms. Schneider, now back in the States, was in Manitoba for about a week. Check out her blog.

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    Monday, March 09, 2009

    Mercedes Dealer to Redevelop

    I intended to publish this story before tonight’s SPRC meeting, but that just was not to be. I was not at tonight’s meeting (I had to teach). –ST.
    This view looks south on N. Glebe Road. N. Fifth Street runs to the left. (Provided by American Service Center. Click to enlarge the image.)

    Earlier tonight Arlington’s Site Plan Review Committee considered plans for a redevelopment of the American Service Center Mercedes dealership at the corner of N. Glebe Road at N. Quincy Street. The dealership is proposing a six-storey building that will combine many of the of the dealership’s operations under one roof.

    The dealership’s managers gave the SPRC and other stakeholders in the community a tour of the facility on Saturday in order to show what a large operation it is and what would be compiled under one roof. The dealership employees about 275 people, sold about 1,000 cars last year, and had total sales of about $170 million, said General Manager Ralph Mastantuono.

    “We take a lot of pride in this place,” Mr. Mastantuono said.

    At its tallest, the new building would reach about 79 feet, said officials of the project. Although portions of the property would allow this development, others require zoning changes. By comparison the Ballston Commons Mall parking lot is about 55 feet. The Hyde Park Condominium which would sit across N. Glebe from the building is about 120 feet.

    Tom Lauria, Hyde Park’s vice president, wrote in an email that they have been late in coming to the discussion about this project, but that they will ask to lower the building to four storeys.

    SPRC members and others considered the heights of buildings from the rooftop parking lot of the American Service Center. The Hyde Park Condominium rises in the background. (Click to enlarge the image.)

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    Letter: Conduct Cost/Benefit on Nature Center


    It seems to me that the decision whether to preserve Gulf Branch Nature Center should be based on a cost-benefit analysis of the number of countywide visitors relative to the overall costs, including salaries, maintenance, utilities, supplies, etc., of the facility.

    The interested pleading of the Center's immediate neighbours cannot be a valid criterion, since validating them would mean that everyone in Arlington would also deserve a nature center in their neighborhood. (This holds for those who also wish to maintain the services of Westover and other branch libraries.) These considerations are especially important during the current budget crisis.

    Ken Moskowitz
    Ashton Heights

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    Charley Conrad Endorses Grant for Delegate

    Charley Conrad, a leading Arlington Democratic activist and one of Virginia’s top gay rights advocates, announced his endorsement today of Miles Grant for House of Delegates in Virginia’s 47th district, Mr. Grant's campaign reported.

    “If we’re going to make progress on marriage rights for all Virginians, we need more bold leaders like Miles Grant,” said Conrad. “Miles had already earned my respect because of his progressive values, record of community service, and active support for Democratic candidates – and now he’s earned my support for his strong stand in support of full marriage rights for gay couples.”

    A resident of Ashton Heights, Mr. Grant lives in the Historic Ballston Park near the Cassiana Spa.

    Arlingtonians will choose the Democratic contender in a June 9 primary. Republicans have yet to field a candidate.

    The five candidates, all Democrats, in the race include:

    Miles Grant; Patrick Hope; Alan Howze; Adam Parkhomenko; Andreas Tobar.

    Adam Parkhomenko won the endorsement of Virginia Sen. Patsy Ticer in the first week of March. Mr. Parkomenko earlier won the endorsement of Al Eisenberg's sons; read the Sun Gazette's story here (from Feb. 19).

    Buckingham Community Civic Association President Pat Hope recently picked up the endorsement of two county board members and a former delegate--read the Sun Gazette story here (from Feb. 17). He has won the endorsement of Elaine Furlow (Feb. 28), a former school board member and chair, and the endorsement of Ted Bilich,Ashton Height's Civic Association President (from Feb. 19).

    They all made news in the Connection on Feb. 3 and again on Feb. 25
    Local Politics: Board Members Take Sides In 47th

    Full Disclosure: I have known Pat Hope for years and consider him a friend.

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    Friday, March 06, 2009

    HeraldTrib Today, March 6 2009

    County Board approved the Village 3 lease and financing package…

    Plans for Buckingham Village 3 slid as easily as expected through the recessed county board meeting on Tuesday Feb. 24. (For the most recent story on this, click here).

    At that meeting, the board voted to commit about $36 million to the purchase of the ground and buildings that make up Village 3, and they committed money from the Affordable Housing Investment Fund to help preserve the apartments as affordable. On March 19, the county will buy the building and grounds from Paradigm Development and its partners, the current owners.

    In the plan, the county OKed a long-term lease, 75 years, with Telesis Corp. of Washington. Telesis will own any improvements made to the property. Arlington must enter into these sorts of deals as the county is legally barred from owning housing.

    Patricia McCullough (Taken from board meeting video.)

    “There was an area in southeast D.C., it was a very, very old place; they [Telesis] turned that place around,” said Patricia “Pate” McCollough, at the Feb. 24 meeting. McCullough, formerly of Buckingham, but late of Fairfax County, said the apartments in southeast changed from “the wild west” to a nice place to live. She was part of the working group that chose Telesis for this project.

    Lois Athey, an activist with BU-GATA, the tenants association echoed the sentiment.

    “We asked for participation, well we got it,” Ms. Athey said of the experience working with Telesis as that company plans the takeover.

    Village 3 covers about six acres of land north of N. Pershing Drive between N. George Mason Drive and N. Thomas St. The 16 buildings that make up the village fell under the protection of the county’s Historical Affairs and Landmark Review in 2006 when the county entered a memorandum of understanding with Paradigm Development Corp. and its partners, the current owners.

    Under that MOU, Paradigm began to renovate Village 1, which sits next to Culpepper Garden assisted living facility of N. Pershing Drive. Village 2, at the corner of N. George Mason Drive and N. Henderson Road is being redeveloped “by right” and has about a dozen upscale townhomes on it now.

    All 140 units on the property will remain affordable, starting as affordable rentals. A plan to sell the units at affordable rates is being considered.

    SunTrust bank will hold the first deed of trust on the property.

    Lubber Run Center hit by proposed budget…

    It looks like Lubber Run Center will lose some hours of operation under the county manager’s proposed budget.

    Programming might not be cut, but the potential is that it would move to other locations in Buckingham or Arlington.

    “During the day, it’s pretty darn busy [at Lubber Run Community Center]….I don’t believe there’s a lot of programming in the evening,” said Susan Kalish, the director of marketing and communications for the county’s Department of Parks Recreation and Community Resources.

    It might be, too, that the building, at the corner of N. George Mason and N. Park drives stays open on some odd hours, maybe late on one day of the week but not on others, Ms. Kalish said. The county will be looking at what is offered in the evenings, how the people who attend the events get there, and whether those people would be able to get to another location.

    Gulf Branch Center is generating some interest…

    Could have been worse for the Lubber Run Center—at least the county is not threatening to close it as they are the Gulf Branch Nature Center in far-north Arlington. The county manager’s budget aims to close the building and move indoor programming to Potomac Overlook Regional Park and elsewhere in the county. Read the full story here.

    Gulf Branch Nature Center, 3608 N. Military Road.(Click to enlarge the image.)

    Ms. Kalish said in an email after the story ran that letting the park itself run down is not in the plan, though it was a concern for Suzy Wagner, a neighbor interviewed for the story.

    “Funding to maintain the park environments is alive and well,” Ms. Kalish wrote.

    She admitted in a later email that she supposed the park could be sold, but building on the property is really hard.

    “It’s a Resource Protected Area…by the Chesapeake Bay Local Assistance Department. Demolishing on the site won’t be too hard, as long as you provide extra care. But building—oh my—you can’t build bigger than the current footprint, as well as not impacting the stream and nature,” she wrote.

    It was exactly that fear that drove Ms. Wagner to take up action to keep the building open she said. At the same time, in the interview she said how tough it is to do anything in a Resource Protected Area, something she learned while renovating her house.

    Follow this twit…

    I’ve set up and gotten used to the whole Twitter idea. I need a different phone to really make it work, as I can’t stand the press-the-two-key-three-times thing to type a “c” only to have typed a lower case “c” when I wanted upper case! I tried twitting from the National Mall for the inauguration, but had to stop as the press-the-two-key-three-times thing to type a “c” thing really was too much while walking through masses of people.

    Surf to to follow my little updates. Only business-related items; I won’t tell you “My shorts are bunching. Thoughts?” as Roland Hedley on Doonesbury did the other morning! Go ahead and follow my twits!

    For those of you unfamiliar: twitter is a web site much like a blog. The trick, though, is that someone posting a twit only has 140 characters. It was started by a guy who thought it would be fun to tell people stuff like “I’m drinking coffee” from work. In the last couple of months, it has grown. Twits can still only be 140 characters, but many news types have them in this info-overload world.

    The Week’s Headlines…
    As always, you can scroll down to see all the recent stories, or simply click the links below (if the link doesn't work, scroll down to find the story, and email to tell me what's busted: --Steve Thurston).

    Today's Headlines:

  • John Cephas, I Will Miss You

  • Headlines from Earlier in the Week--the race for the 47th:

  • Sen. Ticer Endorses Parkhomenko
  • Hope Picks Up Furlow Endorsement

  • Headlines from Earlier in the Week--the county budget:

  • County Proposes Closing Gulf Branch Nature Center (a lot of people have commented on this one--take a peek, add your two eents).
  • This story is from awhile back (Oct. 2007), but it deals directly with the Glebe Road bridge over Arlington Boulevard. It's rather prescient. I have to admit that I love it when I have already covered a story...

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  • John Cephas I Will Miss You

    Roberta! where are you? Can’t you hear me call?
    I’m a thousand miles away from home with my back up against the wall…

    First time I heard John Cephas play the guitar was about five or six years ago at the annual DC Blues Fest at Carter Barron Amphitheatre in DC.

    A nice act, with a woman in the lead, came on before them. The woman, whoever it was, and her band did well, but then these two guys got on stage, one with the guitar, and the other in a wide-brimmed hat, pulled low over his face, a harmonica to his lips.

    They played in a different league. John Cephas on acoustic guitar, Phil Wiggins on the harp. It’s the Piedmont blues, a finger-picking style that plays the chord rather than the single string like you might hear in the Delta.

    I turned to the sales table I happened to be near and bought their CD. Mr. Cephas died of pulmonary embolism, the Washington Post reported, March 4; he was 78.

    As good as that concert was (I write “concert” but given the meltdown the kids were having, I could only stay for two or three songs), I was glad two years ago to catch Cephas and Wiggins at the Montgomery CollegeTakoma Park campus’ black box theatre. With first come, first serve seating, my wife and I found ourselves in the front row of a theatre that held maybe 100 people.

    It wasn’t a concert as much as a conjuring. Something palpable grew from that stage, rose up between them, slunk out into audience. I could have stood up and walked over to them on whatever it was without touching ground. I don’t have words for the experience of hearing their harmonica and guitar that night, but every fiber of my body vibrated under their power. I have never felt so much like the music was in me as I did that night. Spellbinding.

    He will be missed. Here’s a youtube clip:

    Related stories…
  • Blues Singer and Guitarist Preserved Va. Traditions
  • RIP Piedmont Bluesman John Cephas (a WashPost tribute)

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  • Wednesday, March 04, 2009

    Parkhomenko Gets the Nod from Sen. Ticer

    Virginia Senator Patsy Ticer (D-30) endorsed Adam Parkhomenko in his run for the House of Delegates' 47th district, his campaign reported Monday.

    This represents the first major endorsement by a state legislator in the race.

    “Adam represents a fresh voice for Arlington—one that's needed in the General Assembly at this moment," Ticer said in the campaign statement. “He is passionate, smart, and very hard-working and I look forward to working with him on the critical issues facing our community."

    Senator Ticer served as mayor of Alexandria, Virginia from 1991 to 1996. She has held her seat in the Virginia Senate since 1996. Her disctrict covers Alexandria, a small portion of Fairfax County and all of south Arlington below Columbia Pike.

    Parkhomenko was born and raised in Arlington and is running against four other Democrats for the party's nomination in June.

    Democrat Al Eisenberg currently holds the seat but said he stepping down after this legislative session.

    Arlingtonians will choose the Democratic contender in a June 9 primary. Republicans have yet to field a candidate.

    The five candidates, all Democrats, in the race include:

    Miles Grant; Patrick Hope; Alan Howze; Adam Parkhomenko; Andreas Tobar.

    Adam Parkhomenko earlier won the endorsement of Al Eisenberg's sons; read the Sun Gazette's story here (from Feb. 19).

    Buckingham Community Civic Association President Pat Hope recently picked up the endorsement of two county board members and a former delegate--read the Sun Gazette story here (from Feb. 17). He has won the endorsement of Elaine Furlow (Feb. 28), a former school board member and chair, and the endorsement of Ted Bilich,Ashton Height's Civic Association President (from Feb. 19).

    They all made news in the Connection on Feb. 3 and again on Feb. 25
    Local Politics: Board Members Take Sides In 47th

    Full Disclosure: I have known Pat Hope for years and consider him a friend.

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    Monday, March 02, 2009

    Political Storm Coming to Gulf Branch

    The signs of an approaching storm were everywhere on Saturday at the Gulf Branch Nature Center. The air was cold, and the light wind during the day had picked up into steady, chilly breeze in the afternoon. Grey, overcast clouds enclosed the barren forest, limited the sky. A real, late-winter storm was brewing.
    On fence posts and the sides of log buildings hung more signs of another kind of storm.
    “Shame!” one read, and “Save Gulf Branch Nature Center!” read another. One listed a March 14 rally at the park.

    Signs of an approaching political storm were tacked up all over the Gulf Branch Nature Center Park. (Click to enlarge the image.)

    In the proposed budget released Feb. 21, County Manager Ron Carlee has asked to close and demolish the “obsolete” Gulf Branch Nature Center building, moving all the animals and indoor programming to the Potomac Overlook Regional Park, not quite two miles away, or to other locations in Arlington. Outdoor programming at the forge and log cabin in the Gulf Branch park would continue, the county has said.
    Email listservs buzzed over it. Lillian Prins started a facebook page which now has over 1,900 friends. Gulf Branch Neighborhood resident Suzy Wagner started a web site and petition. Over 2,000 electronic signatures have been collected.
    Ms. Wagner does not believe the claims that the building is obsolete and that the programs could be absorbed into other places in Arlington.

    A facebook page, online petition and web site blossomed quickly and already have thousands of members. (Click to enlarge the image.)

    “It’s not accurate. It’s not true,” she said.
    She believes that other places like Potomac Overlook and Long Branch Nature Center (just off S. Carlin Springs Road) do not have room either for all of the indoor activities or for all of the animals—Gulf Branch has a beehive, lizards, turtles and fish.
    She wondered what would happen to the Native American exhibit in the lower level of the building. The display of weapons, pottery shards and a reproduction of an Indian canoe are part of the 25-site Native American historical trail in Virginia.
    The rest rooms will be gone when the building is demolished, so the programming outside will be limited, she said.
    Ms. Wagner lives on the trail that leads to the park, and she said she still hears her late father calling it “the gem in the woods behind you.”

    A draft comparison of the two nature centers. (Provided by Arlington County, Click to enlarge the image.)

    If the center is cut from the budget as a step toward more efficiency, it would not close until the end of the summer to preserve summer camps, said Susan Kalish, the director of marketing and communication for the Department of Parks, Recreation and Cultural Resources. The cut would save about $132,000 in this year’s operational budget and would cut the position of the nature center director.
    She has not been let go yet since the budget has not been adopted. Given the uncertainty of her position, however, she is elligible for other jobs in the county.
    “Hopefully she’ll [Director Denise Chauvette will] apply for something else,” Ms. Kalish said, adding that the staffing cut had nothing to do with performance as all the staff and naturalists are good people. Some positions in the county government have been made available for people who wish to, and are qualified to, move. Larger severance packages than normal are being awarded for those who leave, Ms. Kalish said.
    If the building were gone, the county would not need to spend the money on projected repairs and maintenance.
    “A recent report said that we had to spend about $236,800 in maintenance to keep it running by [the end of] 2010,” Ms. Kalish said. By the end of 2024, that number is about $910,000, about $56,000 per year.
    Of the $236,000, $153,000 is to fix the fire panel, Ms. Kalish said. But the old stone house nestled on a tree-covered hillside needs a lot of other work, too. The county needs to repair shingles, overlay asphalt, repair the retaining wall, and provide safe access to the attic, among other repairs.
    “Of everything I just said, $71,000 has already been done,” Ms. Kalish said.
    If it is so close to unusable, Ms. Wagner wondered, “then why did they invest $70,000 in it last year?” She said she feels as though north Arlingtonians pay much of the county’s taxes, but that their services get taken.
    “I don’t think they’re trying to punish us who provide all the revenue to the county,” she said, but with the fights over Gulf Branch and, in the past, the Cherrydale branch library, the county does not see their needs.
    The age of the building is not the only issue.
    “The other bigger issue, I think, is that it’s not ADA accessible,” Ms. Kalish said. The building, an old home with access to the main floor only via a stairway, was never meant to be a nature center and is not compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act. A certain level of major renovation eventually would force the county to make the center compliant, she said. She said that the federal government considers the Potomac Overlook center to be ADA compliant.
    Ms. Wagner countered that Potomac Overlook Park with its long hill from the parking lot to the center is still not wheelchair friendly.
    Closing the Gulf Branch center will not have to start until end of summer after camps and other planned programming have finished. The pond (the spring peepers are already coming out), the creek, the spring house, forge, and other outdoor programming can stay, Ms. Kalish said. Pretty much all the staffing for programming will stay, but they will not need the director.
    David Turvene, of Lyon Park, walked the woods with his children on Saturday. He said he comes rather often since it’s a great place for the kids to see a little nature.
    “I think it’s a shame” that the center might close, he said, adding, “I understand the budget issue, though.”
    He said he is involved with people fighting for funding the Thomas Jefferson Center and school and knows that county will have to make tough decisions. “It’s all priorities,” he said.

    Volunteer Jeff Dolan wonders what will happen with the park if paid staff is not on hand to answer questions. (Click to enlarge the image.)

    On the wooded hill above the nature center Saturday, Jeff Dolan piled invasive plants that he pulled up from around the trees. He is a volunteer who has a section of the woods to care for; his section, like those of other volunteers, is marked with a little, black sign on the side of the trail. He plucked enough English ivy and other plants to fill a large garbage bag.
    Mr. Dolan has worked in the woods a couple times and said he will miss the center’s staff if they have to work from the Potomac Overlook Regional Park.
    “We won’t have them to go to,” he said. It is a big deal for the environment of the park, he said. “They do a lot of good stuff.”
    Ms. Wagner said that she fears the county is not saying all that is really going on. She fears that if the center is gone, the park itself will fall into disrepair.
    $150,000 a year to run the center is not all that much money, and some of that could be made up by charging more for summer camps and other uses, such as birthday parties at the center. She said the county could rely on more volunteers and a full-time director that is shared with Potomac Overlook park. There are ways to close the budget gap without closing the park, she said. If the park falls into disrepair, however, the county might just look to sell it to a developer.
    Closing the center “just doesn’t add up,” she said.

    Related sites…
  • Gulf Branch Nature Center main site.
  • Gulf Branch Nature Center county fact sheet.
  • Save Gulf Branch.
  • Save GBNC facebook page.

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