Woodbrook expansion proposal altered to alleviate neighbors’ concerns

Albemarle County schools recently announced plans to lower a planned expansion to Woodbrook Elementary School from two stories to one, reduce the number of students redistricted to it from 300 to 200 and increase the buffer between new parts of the building and the adjacent neighborhood.

The project will add 268 seats to the school, bringing the total capacity to 606. Of those 268 seats, 200 will be used to alleviate crowding at Agnor-Hurt and Greer elementaries via redistricting.

Dean Tistadt, chief operating officer for the school division, said the remaining 68 seats will be used to expand pre-K offerings and to accommodate future growth.

“The size of the addition has not changed but now we believe that we should only move approximately 200 students to Woodbrook from Greer and Agnor-Hurt,” Tistadt said. “This will leave at least two classrooms available for unknown future development in this area.”

The adjustments to the planned 14-classroom expansion, which is a $15 million component of a $35 million bond referendum on the November ballot, are in response to concerns residents of Woodbrook brought to schools staff in February.

Tistadt said the $15 million estimate is still valid and the addition’s square footage likely will not change, despite the loss of one floor.

“We have not changed the cost estimate, because the square footage is roughly the same as it was,” Tistadt said. “The second story probably added some cost, but not much.”

Though the new plans call for a smaller redistricting, county School Board member Steve Koleszar said he still sees the addition as an effective tool to combat overcrowding.

“Just because we are increasing capacity at Woodbrook by 300 seats does not mean 300 students will be coming in right away,” he said. “The number being transferred will be less, but the overall capacity will be meeting the future need at Woodbrook.”

If there were any savings from losing a floor, they were taken up by additional site work to accommodate the desires of Woodbrook residents, including preservation of a sledding hill.

“Not getting near the property line, and saving the hill area that was very important to [the community] — there were some site work costs associated with that,” Tistadt said.

County schools staff will present the design changes at a community meeting at Woodbrook Elementary on Tuesday evening, ahead of a formal briefing of the School Board on Thursday.

Board members said Friday that they had not yet seen renderings of the new building, but expected to receive them over the weekend in agenda packets for Thursday’s meeting.

“I’m still waiting to get more information about the changes, but I still think that we need to [build the addition] because of all the crowding in the urban ring,” said board member Graham Paige.

Koleszar said he hopes the 268 new seats will allow the county to focus on planning capacity expansion at Albemarle High School.

“Anything short of 268, I think, would force us to be looking to do either another expansion or a new school very soon,” he said. “We have got a lot of high school issues to deal with, so I’d like to put the elementary schools to bed for a while, at least in that part of the county.”

Woodbrook residents raised concerns in February at another meeting held at the school, according to the Woodbrook Neighborhood Blog.

In addition to the height of the building and its proximity to the property line, residents at the meeting expressed concerns about the impact on traffic in the neighborhood and property values, the blog reported.

The new plans should alleviate at least some of those concerns, Tistadt said.

“I think we are coming back with something they will feel very positive about,” he said.