The Washington Post

Va. Tech breaks ground at new site


Potomac Yard, the riverfront neighborho­od at the northern tip of Alexandria, has evolved from a regional rail hub into a toxicwaste site and then a strip mall anchored by big-box stores and apartment complexes. At one point, it almost became home to D.C.’S football team.

Now the area is taking a step toward another transforma­tion: Virginia Tech on Tuesday broke ground on its 3.5-acre Innovation Campus, a graduate school meant to expand the workforce for Northern Virginia’s booming tech sector — and turn the surroundin­g neighborho­od into a key node in that industry.

“The location of the Innovation Campus will allow it to catalyze the broader tech industry in the greater Washington, D.C., area,” Lance Collins, the campus’s vice president and executive director, told a crowd of several dozen gathered under a tent at the future site of the campus. “It will unite the three pillars of technology — the private and public sectors and academia — to focus the D.C. region on the challenges that matter most.”

Originally slated for a location just a few blocks across Route 1, the $1 billion project is meant to serve as an educationa­l anchor for National Landing, the Northern Virginia tech hub that local officials have sought to promote around Amazon’s second headquarte­rs in Arlington. (Amazon founder Jeff Bezos owns The Washington Post.)

Collins said in an interview that the campus will be well integrated into the innovation district: The planned Potomac Yard Metro station will put students just a few stops from the Amazon headquarte­rs, and Amazon and other major tech employers will play a role in the classroom.

Rather than pursuing traditiona­l coursework, students will work on group projects sponsored by Amazon or another tech

focused company in the region.

“This will be looking at the ways in which, through our understand­ing of what’s going on in the federal government and in the private sector, we can continue to work on the important problems,” Collins said.

Other companies set to partner with Virginia Tech include the wireless giant Qualcomm, defense contractor Northrop Grumman and aviation company Boeing, which earlier this summer gave the school $50 million for financial aid and other diversity initiative­s.

Virginia Tech expects that the campus — which Collins and other school officials have declared will be the “most diverse graduate engineerin­g school in the country” — will host about 770 students annually by 2030.

About 100 graduate students have already begun attending inperson classes at a temporary space in Falls Church, and the school is actively recruiting outside faculty members as well as professors from its main campus in Blacksburg.

Collins also said he hopes to leverage connection­s with nearby federal agencies and work with the public school system in Alexandria to develop science, technology and engineerin­g programs for much younger students in the area, particular­ly those coming from background­s that are underrepre­sented in the tech industry.

The first building on the campus, an 11-story, gem-shaped academic center covered in solar panels, is expected to open by fall 2024. Like the Amazon headquarte­rs in Crystal City, officials say, it will reshape the previously empty blocks west of the Potomac Yard Center shopping mall.

JBG Smith, which is the dominant landowner and primary developer behind the National Landing hub, plans to use the Innovation Campus as the anchor for a 19-acre mixed-use developmen­t in the neighborho­od, also focused on tech and innovation.

The company’s chief executive, Matt Kelly, said in a statement that the campus will become a “magnet” for a “vibrant district” of university partners and businesses serving students and faculty members.

Earlier this year, the developer and AT&T announced commitment­s to 5G connectivi­ty throughout the area, with the goal of making it a “smart city at scale” that could one day test out self-driving cars.

Some nearby residents have expressed concerns about the constructi­on process. Del. Mark H. Levine (D-alexandria), who attended the groundbrea­king ceremony, said he is calling on the school to pay constructi­on workers at the site a “prevailing wage,” or rates competitiv­e with the private sector, as Amazon has done in Arlington.

Though a Virginia law that went into effect this year requires that standard at most public constructi­on projects, the university is one of five institutio­ns that are not necessaril­y required to meet that rule, Levine said. Virginia has committed to covering $167.7 million of constructi­on costs through a state program intended to boost the tech economy.

Virginia Tech said in a statement, “Pursuant to our contract with the Commonweal­th of Virginia, Virginia Tech isn’t required to pay a prevailing wage.”

 ?? VIRGINIA TECH ?? A rendering of the Innovation Campus. Lance Collins, the campus’s executive director, said Tuesday that “it will unite the three pillars of technology — the private and public sectors and academia.”
VIRGINIA TECH A rendering of the Innovation Campus. Lance Collins, the campus’s executive director, said Tuesday that “it will unite the three pillars of technology — the private and public sectors and academia.”

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