The name remains the same, but the newly constructed Douglas MacArthur Elementary School on Janney Lane in Alexandria bears little resemblance to the Virginia school that used to stand on the site.
“The 1943 building only had eight classrooms and one common area,” recalled Superintendent Melanie Kay-Wyatt. “Very different from this new three-story innovative space, with natural lighting coming into each classroom and restrooms accessible to the classrooms that give students more privacy.”
During the Friday morning ribbon-cutting, Principal Penny Hairston said the only thing needed is a building full of students — Alexandria City Schools will open on Monday.
Hairston emotionally thanked staff, the school system and elected officials in the audience — many of whom played a role in the yearslong process of financing and building a school.
“It’s a vital reminder that a building such as this is an investment in our children and in our community,” said Hairston.
New School Board Chair Michelle Rief said other capital project requirements kept bumping back replacing the undersized, outdated MacArthur school, until the new Patrick Henry K-8 School opened.
“One of the biggest challenges was where would we relocate the students,” said Rief. “The old Patrick Henry school was slated to be torn down, and the idea came about to use it as a swing space, so we could accelerate the modernization of Douglas MacArthur.”
In 2021, approximately 650 students from the original MacArthur School moved to the old Patrick Henry school. As of Monday, students will return to the new and improved neighborhood school, 80 years after the doors first opened on the site.
The new Douglas MacArthur school is 154,221 square feet and three stories, with capacity for 840 students. It features dedicated space for classrooms, art and music rooms, physical education and a multipurpose room. Many open spaces throughout the school can be configured for a variety of activities.
City of Alexandria Mayor Justin Wilson said Friday’s ribbon-cutting was a celebration of difficult decisions that were made years ago.
“This is budget decisions that were made in 2015, 2016, 2017 — these things take a while and they require significant sacrifice,” Wilson said.
“The taxpayers of our city made significant sacrifices to make this building exist here, today,” said Wilson. “We’re celebrating an incredible amount of sacrifice that has led to an incredible investment in the next generation.”
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