Proposed Albemarle development to offer sites for two new schools
Albemarle County soon could gain two school sites as part of a land rezoning to accommodate a 300-acre development at the corner of U.S. 29 and Polo Grounds Road.
Riverbend Development has offered a seven-acre elementary school site within the proposed 800- to 1,500-unit Brookhill development, and a 61-acre high school site on the other side of U.S. 29, county staff said.
The county School Board on Thursday is expected to approve an official letter supporting the proffer.
“We looked at those sites and decided they were pretty much ideal, they were spot on,” said Dean Tistadt, the school division’s chief operating officer. “To support the rezoning application for the proffers, and to make clear that we did view that favorably, we asked [the School Board] to sign off on a letter.”
Riverbend reached out to school division officials to offer the sites, Tistadt said.
“[Riverbend President Alan Taylor] is expressing interest in and concern for the impact of his development on the community, in this case with helping the division with new building sites,” he said.
Having the sites gives the division options as it evaluates how to solve a persistent capacity problem in the county’s northern feeder pattern, which includes the dense neighborhoods along 29 north of the Rivanna River.
In 2006, the county received a proffered school site as part of the future North Pointe development, a 264-acre, 900-unit neighborhood to go in along 29 just north of the Proffit Road intersection.
That site would require redistricting students from the Forest Lakes and Hollymead neighborhoods, Tistadt said, which county officials would like to avoid.
The School Board in November rejected a redistricting plan for Albemarle High School and Greer Elementary.
Documents submitted to the county show the elementary site would occupy a hillside near the middle of the proposed development, just east of the historic Brookhill house. Riverbend does not yet own the land that would become the high school site, Taylor said.
The developer is in the process of purchasing the land for the high school site, which is made up of portions of several existing parcels at the intersection of 29 and Rio Mills Road.
The elementary school site could allow the county to roughly halve the size of a proposed 16-classroom addition to Woodbrook Elementary, Tistadt said.
The full-size Woodbrook addition would allow the school to double its capacity to 600 students at a cost of about $14 million.
As proposed, Tistadt said, the addition solves an existing capacity crunch and gives the school room to grow.
The new site would allow the county to consider building an addition only to account for current overcrowding, with the potential of a new school to deal with long-term capacity.
“Now, we can say, ‘Let’s build the Woodbrook addition for what we now know to be true,’” Tistadt said. “With the new school site, we don’t have to build it based on what we don’t know.”
Some School Board members have expressed concerns that relying on a proffered school site and shrinking the addition would end up costing more in the long run.
“The challenge is that if we build the full recommended addition to Woodbrook, we have the capacity to accommodate 300 kids,” said School Board Chairwoman Kate Acuff. “If we build the eight classrooms, we have to still build the gym and media center. It won’t cost half of $14 million, it will probably cost two-thirds.”
The smaller addition could fill up more quickly than anticipated, Acuff said, citing the 2012 addition to Greer Elementary, which county documents show was more than 30 students over capacity in September.
“I am very concerned that we are reactive in terms of our capacity planning rather than proactive,” she said.
The land for the high school site is a big step toward a solution to the looming prospect of crowding at Albemarle High School, Tistadt said.
County documents show the school is 122 students over capacity this year, and is expected to house more than 2,000 students in 2017-18. The building’s capacity is 1,819.
The county has been weighing whether to add classrooms or build an entire new high school, but until now has not had a viable site for a new building, Tistadt said.
In a perfect world, Acuff said, there would be one solution.
“There has been a longstanding policy with the School Board to not have AHS get over 2,000 students, and we are there already, basically,” Acuff said. “The challenge with the high school is the money. We are having a challenge just adding to Woodbrook for $14 million, and we are thinking big.”
Eight modular classrooms will be added to AHS this summer to quell crowding.
The Brookhill proposal come just before a state law narrowing the kind of proffers that localities can accept takes effect. After July 1, localities must prove that a proffer associated with a development directly addresses impacts from that project.
“[After July 1], in order for us to proffer these school sites, Brookhill itself would need to generate all of the students to fill the seats at both of these schools,” Taylor said. “Brookhill doesn’t come close in this regard, and the new law forecloses the opportunity that we have presented.”