Within the next three years, Albemarle County Public Schools aims to conduct a middle school facility planning study as well as consider adding one additional elevator to its two-story buildings as part of the division’s $181 million capital improvement plan projects.

The middle school facility planning study and elevator projects will cost about $500,000 and $4.2 million, respectively, according to the division’s records.

Rosalyn Schmitt, the school system’s chief operating officer, said the county’s middle schools haven’t been part of previous capital funding because they had enough capacity. But that’s shifting.

We anticipate the study will come up with recommendations, and the schools will consider those recommendations. It may be projects. It may be grade level configuration.

Rosalyn Schmitt Albemarle County Public Schools Chief Operating Officer

Schmitt said Jouett and Henley middle schools are “having looming” capacity issues, and “they will be overcrowded.” Henley houses nearly 900 pupils, compared with Walton Middle School, which has 350. Having a crowded school has an impact on offerings, she said.

“There’s parity,” she said, adding that there needs to be a conversation on middle schools to make sure the division has equitable opportunities for students.

The study could begin in fall 2020. Funding for the study is being requested for fiscal year 2021. A consultant will be hired to conduct the study, which could take nearly a year, with the hopes of getting stakeholders and community engagement.

“We anticipate the study will come up with recommendations, and the schools will consider those recommendations,” Schmitt said. “It may be projects. It may be grade level configuration.”

The other project under the capital improvement plan aiming at making the division more equitable, Schmitt said, is the addition of elevators at the division’s two-story buildings, like Albemarle, Monticello and Western Albemarle high; Burley middle; and Greer and Cale elementary schools.

“The existing elevators are not up to modern standards, as EMTs could not fit a stretcher inside. Updated elevators would increase health and safety standards for all students and staff, should an accident occur, by allowing EMTs to get to upper floors and back as quickly as possible,” according to the division’s records.

Schmitt said when an elevator breaks down, it also affects those who have a disability and rely on elevators to access the buildings.

“If the existing elevator has an issue or requires maintenance, then those who cannot use the stairs are left unable to reach the upper floors of the building. On occasion, classes have needed to switch rooms to accommodate someone with an ADA requirement because of an issue with the existing elevator,” school division documents state.

 “We want [people with disabilities] to have access to all the buildings,” she said and having only one elevator might not be sufficient if a user has to travel to something on the opposite end of the school and “‘you’re having this long-winded path to get to things.’”

Funding for the elevator project is being requested for the fiscal years 2021 through 2023.

Other projects in the capital improvement plan include school safety improvements, a data center, Crozet Elementary School addition and improvements, Cale expansion and site improvements, Albemarle and Western Albemarle renovations, learning space modernization, elementary school renovations and land acquisition.

Under a separate project not in the capital improvement plan projects, Schmitt said 55 parking spaces could be added to Western Albemarle High School by the spring. The new parking spaces are expected to cost $400,000 and is set to be an agenda item on the Aug. 22 School Board meeting.

We’re doing this to address some immediate concerns with the funding that we have available, but there’s more of a long-term conversation at other schools.

Rosalyn Schmitt Albemarle County Public Schools Chief Operating Officer

To add the new parking spaces, the division will use leftover funds from the $6 million science lab project that’s under construction at Western.

“As you come into the school on the main entrance, [the parking spaces] will be on the right side,” Schmitt said.

But adding new spaces necessarily won’t meet the full need across the division. In the last 10 years, Western has added 100 students, Schmitt said, and other county schools also need new parking spaces.

“We’re doing this to address some immediate concerns with the funding that we have available, but there’s more of a long-term conversation at other schools,” Schmitt said.