Dean Tistadt, Albemarle County Public Schools Chief Operating Officer, and Rosalyn Schmitt, Assistant Director of Facilities Planning, spoke to Woodbrook residents and others at a meeting held at Woodbrook Elementary School on Wednesday, February 10, 2016. The purpose of the meeting was to address concerns raised by Woodbrook residents over property values, traffic and other issues pertaining to the proposed Woodbrook Elementary School expansion.
Mr. Tistadt opened the meeting by reminding the audience that the plan is only preliminary. “Frankly, as we stand here tonight, this project is still not funded and we don’t know if this project ever will be funded,” said Tistadt.
Ms. Schmitt then offered a review of the project’s history. Her presentation can be viewed in its entirety here. Readers might find it helpful to view this document while listening to the accompanying meeting audio.
Following the PowerPoint presentation, the floor was opened for questions. There ensued a lengthy discussion about why Woodbrook was selected for the expansion. Several residents offered their own ideas on how the need for additional capacity could be accommodated at an alternate location.
The expansion includes plans to redraw several school districts. Some residents were concerned about the sequence of these events. “If I heard you correctly, we are going to build it first, then talk redistricting later,” said Woodbrook resident Sharon Evans, to which Tistadt replied, “Yes.” And on the issue of a bond referendum, Schmitt said, “If the Board of Supervisors requests a bond referendum, it would be on the ballot in November of 2016. If it was endorsed by the public, they would have to find the revenues to support it,”
Some in attendance thought that the project was simply too large for Woodbrook. “So, just as a comparison, you’re talking about taking us up to almost 90,000 square feet, which is one of the largest schools on the smallest acreage,” said Woodbrook resident Sandi Taylor who, along with others, was concerned that the proposed project would overwhelm the site. According to Schmitt, the State guidelines for school property are eight acres for a 400-student school and ten acres for a 600-student school. “So we are within State guidelines,” said Schmitt.
One member of the audience asked if it would be practical to add a second story to the existing school building. “Construction typically takes about nine months to a year, so being an occupied building you would have to find a swing space for the whole school while under construction. We’ve never done that sort of thing,” said Schmitt.
But perhaps the most concern came from those Woodbrook residents whose properties are near the proposed development. “Construction will demolish my pool. We have privacy issues, there’s grade issues, there’s drainage issues,” said Woodbrook resident Sandi Taylor, speaking about the expected effect on her property which abuts the school. Taylor went on to make a proposal for improving vehicular access to the school with less disturbance to abutting properties. Referring to Ms. Taylor’s input, Tistadt said, “It would save us a bunch of money, frankly, if that worked.”
“[My house] is going to be no more than 30 feet from this section [of the development] and as these people have already spoken [the development] is going to crush my property values,” said Woodbrook resident Kenny Hoy. “Nobody is going to want to move into my home with a two-story addition looking into their back yard,” he added.
Many of the attendees expressed concern about the effect of increased traffic in the neighborhood. “Talking with Transportation, adding the 300 seats would introduce an additional three to four buses,” said Schmitt. “We have no sidewalks for these kids,” said one Woodbrook resident who has asked to remain anonymous. “There are lots of issues that are safety issues,” he added. “It seems like we should have some kind of impact study, traffic impact study before you even continue with the idea of putting a school [in there] that’s twice the size it is presently now,” said one attendee. There were also concerns about access to the neighborhood by emergency vehicles during busy hours.
“Whenever an event is held here we are overrun with cars in this neighborhood parking all over the streets,” said Woodbrook resident Sharon Evans. “If you are going to double that, we are going to have a problem,” she added.
Woodbrook PTO President Sara Henry spoke passionately in favor of the proposed development. “A lot of us are very excited about the idea of an addition to Woodbrook,” she said. According to Henry, the current size of the school does not justify hiring a full-time music or art teacher. “The fact that we sit on a number border is problematic for a lot of reasons, and it makes it really difficult to provide consistent classroom size, consistent instruction for those kids. When you’re a little bit larger, a lot of those problems go away,” said Henry. “It helps Woodbrook retain great teachers,” she added.
“So one of my takeaways this evening is that we will take a look at doing a traffic study,” said Tistadt as the meeting began to wind down. “I would make [the] comment that the traffic associated with this school increase is [of] a relatively short duration of time in the morning and the afternoon,” he added.
“It just would be really nice to make sure that the County and the School Board understand that Woodbrook is a unique situation–it is a school embedded in a community,” said Taylor.