A private middle school for boys which embraces the outdoors and a well-rounded education, the Field School of Charlottesville, moved one step closer to finding a new home earlier this week.
The Albemarle Planning Commission recommended approval Tuesday of the Field School’s plan to build a new facility on a 62.1 acre site off Polo Grounds Road near the Bentivar sub-division.
Currently housed the old Crozet school, a building which dates back to 1924, the Field School has been desperately searching for a new location.
This is in part due to damage from the 2011 earthquake which condemned one room of the school.
“It frightened me, as a person who has about 80 families that depends upon me, because we don’t have a fallback space plan,” said Todd Barnett, the head of the school. “We have to have a [special use permit] to operate anywhere, and that’s an 8-month process.”
Albemarle County staff said they could not recommend the project for approval citing among their concerns the project’s traffic analysis.
“Without a more complete study, the proposals traffic impacts cannot be accurately assessed,” the report indicated. “VDOT has described the increased delays that the proposal would cause at the US 29/Polo Grounds Roads intersection as ‘not acceptable’.”
With these problems in mind the staff recommended denial of the request.
However the staff report noted that VDOT feels the private school trip generation numbers, which equals 372 trips per day, would be more appropriate than the public elementary school designation, a total of 194 trips per day, which the applicant used.
“We drive a bus to and from school every day and take about 60 percent of our students to school this way,” said Barnett. “I expect at capacity we will have about 118 cars every day.”
In the public hearing, traffic was a common concern raised by neighbors.
“I have been a resident of Bentivar for the past 9 years,” said Jim Maslof. “As the situation exists today I don’t see how we can really predict what it would be with the Field School addition to Polo Grounds [Road].”
“There is really not a worse road in my opinion where you could put an unknown but large entity,” added Maslof. “There are just too many unknowns.”
“Polo Grounds Road is a very narrow road, with no shoulder whatsoever,” said David Schmidt.
The Commission’s discussion focused on traffic and enforcement of traffic limits in the future.
“What we are approving is a private school at that facility, it could be a different school that ends up moving in there eventually,” said Commissioner Don Franco. “What we are responsible for is the land use.”
“Remember we are not going to do this for six years, so when you asked about adaptive [traffic] controls being established I realistically don’t think we will be able to raise the money to do this for five or six years,” said Barnett.
“Without doing something to improve the traffic at that intersection, I find it hard to support it,” added Franco.
The commissioned voted 4-2 in favor of the project with Commissioners Franco and Rick Randolph voting against. Commissioner Bruce Dotson was absent. The proposal will be reviewed by the Albemarle Board of Supervisors at a future meeting.
“Traffic is a problem,” said Commissioner Calvin Morris. “It’s going to be a problem no matter what goes in that site.”