Panel skeptical of funding school capacity planning through bond referendum
A county schools’ plan to ask for $500,000 for capacity planning at Albemarle High School as part of a proposed $35.5 million November bond referendum met resistance Tuesday night.
After a brief public hearing, the Albemarle County Planning Commission reached consensus in favor of the brick-and-mortar items on the list but said they did not support using a referendum to secure planning dollars.
“I think some additional [school] capacity … makes sense,” said Commissioner Bruce Dotson. “I have some questions, however, about $500,000 for high school capacity planning — that strikes me as extremely expensive.”
The Albemarle County Board of Supervisors will decide next week whether to add the projects to the county’s Capital Improvement Program.
The list of projects for the proposed referendum includes a $, 300-student addition to Woodbrook Elementary, $10.9 million for division-wide classroom modernization, $6 million for new and updated science labs at Western Albemarle High School and $3 million for security improvements at county schools.
The referendum is designed to impact the entire division, said Rosalyn Schmitt, county schools assistant director of facilities planning.
“The five projects touch all 26 facilities in the county schools to varying degrees,” she said.
Woodbrook resident Audrey Kocher said she opposes the elementary school addition.
“Woodbrook is probably one of the oldest neighborhoods in this community. … A two-story addition with roads, parking and all that added bulk is too much for the community,” she said.
Instead, Kocher asked that the division look to build a new school in the proposed Brookhill development at the intersection of U.S. 29 and Polo Grounds Road.
“Perhaps building a new school at Brookhill would be better,” she said. “It is much easier to build a new school in a new community than add to a school in an old one.”
The Woodbrook addition would add 16 classrooms over two stories. About $12 million of the estimated cost would go toward building the addition, while the remaining $3 million would go to updating the existing building.
County School Board Chairwoman Kate Acuff spoke during the public hearing, advocating for the addition, as opposed to immediately building a new school.
“There are efficiencies both in construction costs, operating costs and broader capacity issues in the county,” she said. “Building some excess capacity there now would really help us plan for some of the growth going north.”
Peter Roan, another Woodbrook resident, worried that a bigger school would necessitate additional entrances to the neighborhood.
“Maintaining only one is important to maintaining the character of the neighborhood,” he said. “There is one cut-through to Carrsbrook, and if that were ever opened up, it would create a through-traffic situation that is counter to the character of Woodbrook.”
The county Board of Supervisors was divided on the project at its regular meeting earlier this month, with members Brad Sheffield and Rick Randolph opposing the measure.
Sheffield said he would rather the county pursue an entirely new elementary school in the northern feeder pattern. Randolph worried that the referendum would take away political will to spend money on a possible relocation of the county courts.
Randolph specifically opposed $10.9 million for division-wide classroom modernization and the money for high school capacity planning. Randolph said at the time he would rather money for those projects be budgeted in the general fund.
School division staff have urged the supervisors to look at the referendum list as a package, not as a list of projects to pick and choose from.
Commissioner Mac Lafferty said physical building projects are long overdue in the school division.
“Quite frankly, I look at each trailer as the county’s inability to step up to their responsibilities,” he said. “I realize that we in the past have had boards of supervisors that have not wanted to raise any tax or move forward. And you have had to put trailers places that don’t add much more other than shelter.”