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Albemarle schools facing facility, space constraints
20140626-Long Range Planning Advisory Committee
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Long Range Planning Advisory Committee members addressing the Albemarle School Board
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by Tim Shea | Friday, June 27, 2014 at 12:35 p.m.

A group charged with identifying Albemarle County Public Schools’ facility needs says the division’s buildings will require about $212 million in work over the next 10 years.

The update from the Long Range Planning Advisory Committee came as the schools revisit projects slated for construction, renovation or design in the capital improvement program that is shared jointly between the school division and County government.

The scale of this year’s request took some on the School Board by surprise, but Board member Steve Koleszar said he supported the needs-based CIP.

The CIP is a planning document—which is revisited each year—that estimates project costs in one year increments over the decade. The advisory committee has recommended about $120 million in the plan’s first five years, while carving out $11.5 million for FY15.

Due to limited CIP funds in the past, the school division has frequently not included all facility needs, such as modernizations, in the ask. However, arguing in favor of including a 10-year, $70 million modernization project, schools chief operating officer Dean Tistadt said the work will reflect the dynamic way the division is asking its teachers to teach.

Rosalyn Schmitt, a building services project manager, agreed.

Schmitt said the type of work Albemarle’s students are doing now greatly differs from classroom work in the 1950s—the era that many of the rooms reflect.

“On the whole, our spaces are not meeting the needs of our kids for the 21st century,” Schmitt said.

“We have classrooms in some of our schools that literally have no natural lighting,” Albemarle superintendent Pam Moran said.

“They’re looking at spaces that aren’t traditionally used as classrooms,”
Giaramita said. “You have teachers who in their professional development
time have no place to go.”

Over 90 of Albemarle’s classrooms have no natural light, which totals 20 percent of all high and middle school classrooms.

According to the Committee’s report, the initiative would improve classrooms, media centers and cafeterias, and would impact all of the division’s 26 schools.

In addition to renovations and improvements, Albemarle’s schools are running out of room for the students, particularly in the northern feeder pattern, which is a designated growth area.  

Eight of the 11 northern Albemarle schools are facing or are projected to face capacity issues in the coming years.

“What the community’s numbers point out is that from the high school to the elementary schools, there is some significant growth issues that we’re going to be dealing with,” schools spokesman Phil Giaramita said.

Albemarle High School—already 35 students over capacity—faces the most severe space issues in the near term, and the LRPAC’s report said AHS “will need to be immediately addressed.”

Giaramita said AHS is “stretched beyond its limit.”

“They’re looking at spaces that aren’t traditionally used as classrooms,” Giaramita said. “You have teachers who in their professional development time have no place to go.”

But in recent years the School Board has maintained that AHS should not be expanded again.

Keeping that position in mind, the Committee recommended that the School Board form a redistricting committee this fall to examine a comprehensive redistricting of the county.

Giaramita said that if it were to come to redistricting, the process would take about a year to study, and that the division would take a measured approach.

“When you have kids who have gone to school together, who have gone up through the elementary school for four or five years, you want to ask if you’re causing disruption to the community,” Giaramita said. “You don’t want to split neighborhoods for example.”

“People become very invested in their schools…and when you consider moving them in the middle of their elementary school career it’s a serious step and you have to go about it thoughtfully,” Giaramita added.

Two years ago Albemarle redistricted Agnor-Hurt Elementary School. That move distributed about 100 Agnor-Hurt students among Broadus Wood, Woodbrook and Greer elementary schools.

Last summer, Albemarle also established a goal of building what it called a “High School of the Future.”

In theory, the new school would be able to serve more students by offering increased online classes, internship opportunities and a flexible schedule that would allow students to attend the physical school at different times throughout the day.

While Giaramita said no location has been selected, it is possible this new school—which in current thinking would not have athletic fields—could be located in northern Albemarle and serve to relieve pressure at Albemarle High School.

To deal with growth at the elementary level, the Committee proposed a $14.2 million, 300-seat addition at Woodbrook Elementary School. If built, the proposed 40,000 square-foot space would double the school’s size.

“It’s an urban ring addition, and we think the work being done at Agnor-Hurt might not solve the entire problem,” Tiffany Barber, the Samuel Miller Representative on the committee, said.

The report also pointed out that planning for pre-K space must occur if those programs are to succeed. Last year pre-K programs occupied 20 classrooms at 13 elementary schools, over half of which are over, or projected to be over, capacity.

Red Hill Elementary School’s outdated classrooms and undersized library caught the Committee’s attention, generating a proposal for $6 million in improvements. If approved, the newly-added spaces would be ready for 2017-18 school year.

Currently, Red Hill’s media center is designed for 100 students, which is 41 students below enrollment, and the school currently uses three trailers for art, music and specialty staff.

“This project has been perpetually delayed for years trying to figure out what was happening in the southern feeder pattern,” said Dean Riddick, the Committee’s Scottsville representative. The School Board has previously indicated it wants to keep its small rural elementary schools open instead of consolidating them in a new regional school.

The Committee’s report also includes nearly $6 million for additions and renovations at Stony Point Elementary School, which now uses four trailers and is expected to exceed enrollment by 27 percent to 47 percent in the next 10 years.

Western Albemarle High School is also expected to be over capacity in the next 10 years, and the Committee included a $9 million placeholder for an addition that would add 200-300 combined seats at Western and/or Monticello High Schools.

Moving forward, Giaramita said the division will face some tough decisions.

“This is really the starting point,” Giaramita said.

The School Board will receive more information August 14. The Board of Supervisors is slated to adopt the next CIP in April 2015.

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