The Albemarle County Planning Commission has recommended approval of a new location for a private middle school.
“The Field School is a school for boys grades five through eight founded in 2007 with a mission to develop well-rounded boys with character and accomplishment,” said Head of School Todd Barnett.
The Field School needs a special-use permit to operate an educational institution on land that is within Albemarle’s rural area on the south side of Barracks Road near Colthurst Road.
“It’s about 1,000 feet from our nearest development area,” said county planner Rachel Falkenstein.
Private schools are allowed in the rural area with a special-use permit.
A date before the Board of Supervisors has not yet been determined.
If supervisors grant the permit, the Architectural Review Board will need to weigh in on the school’s design.
The property is on two parcels totaling 31 acres. The school would utilize up to 25 acres, but the campus itself would only occupy 4.3 acres.
To the south of the site is the Colthurst subdivision, which has nearly 60 single-family homes. Also nearby is the Montvue neighborhood and Saint David’s Anglican Church. Landscaped buffers would separate the school site from homes in Colthurst.
The school is currently renting space from Albemarle County in the former Crozet High School, which was built in 1923.
“The boys wrote to [the commission] about the failings of our current school building,” Barnett said. “We have a dress code that does not allow them to wear jackets indoors, but it’s hard to enforce when it is so cold in the building.”
The Field School had previously sought a special-use permit for a site off Polo Grounds Road, but it was denied by the Board of Supervisors in October 2013.
The permit would allow for up to 150 students in structures with no more than a total footprint of 30,000 square feet. Three buildings are planned, and none will be larger than 12,000 square feet.
One of the conditions of the permit is that athletic fields would not be lit or have amplified sound.
On the positive side, staff said vehicle trips in the rural area would be limited because Barracks Road is a major street and there is also public water and sewer nearby.
A traffic study provided by the Field School showed that the school would generate 372 vehicle trips per day. Barracks Road currently has an average daily traffic count of 6,000 vehicles.
However, Falkenstein said one unfavorable factor is the proposed use of a central sewer system which could cause a “greater environmental and visual impact.” Permission is not required to build such a system.
The application was well-received by members of the community.
“We received a lot of letters of support for the Field School application,” said Andrew Gast-Bray, the county’s planning director.
At the public hearing, several neighbors spoke out in favor of the school locating there and praised school leaders for working with the community on the project.
“I am 100 percent comfortable with the prospect of having the Field School as my neighbor,” said Blair Williamson, who lives adjacent to the site.
“I cannot imagine a more benign nor a more superior use for that particular parcel,” said Jessica Simons, a resident of Colthurst Farms. “We would much prefer to see a school rather than have a developer come in and do what they could by-right.”
However, one neighbor did speak in opposition to the permit.
“I own a property directly behind the pond,” said Greg Jurick. “I don’t want to see it and I don’t want the additional traffic.”
Jurick asked for more details on the critical slopes and claimed that they should not be disturbed. He also wants more information from the Virginia Department of Transportation on whether traffic will increase. No VDOT representatives were present at the meeting.
One student spoke in favor of the permit.
“I really, really enjoy the school which has provided me with a lot of great experiences both educationally and academically,” said eighth-grader Will Jackson.
The commission voted unanimously to recommend the permit for the school.
“This was a very put-together and detailed proposal,” Commissioner Karen Firehock said.