County Holds Third Community Information Meeting on School Expansion

Woodbrook Elementary School Principal Lisa Molinaro speaking in the school gymnasium.
Approximately 30 people, many of them Woodbrook residents, attended the third in a series of meetings about the expansion of Woodbrook Elementary School. The November 29, 2016, meeting was held in the school’s gymnasium and focused on traffic and other concerns raised by residents at the two previous meetings.

The meeting was chaired by Rosalyn Schmitt, Assistant Director of Facilities Planning for Albemarle County Public Schools. Jack Clark from RRMM Architects, the site architects for the project, Bill Wuensch, Principal Transportation Engineer/Planner from EPRpc, and Craig Kotarski, a civil engineer with the Timmons Group, also spoke at the meeting.

The meeting was opened by Woodbrook Elementary principal Lisa Molinaro who introduced the overall project from an educator’s perspective. Rosalyn Schmitt then provided a more detailed overview of the project as well as its funding. “As many of you know, the bond referendum did pass,” said Schmitt, clearing the way to finance the project. “So the plan is to break ground this summer,” she added.

Following Schmitt’s introduction, Bill Wuensch addressed traffic concerns raised by Woodbrook residents at the previous two meetings. Wuensch reported that, based on data collected during a recent study of existing traffic at Woodbrook Drive and US 29, no significant additional delays are expected at the intersection as a result of the project. Speaking about his firm’s traffic projections into 2022, Wuensch said, “The additional queuing on 29 [is] minimal.” He expects an extra two vehicles to be in the outgoing queue, accounting for an additional 2.7 second delay at the Woodbrook light in 2022. Wuensch went on to say that his analysis did not consider the reduction in US 29 traffic resulting from the new Berkmar Drive extension, which would have the effect of reducing the delay. “It looks like you are still going to be able to make it through the light in one cycle,” said Wuensch. Additional details on Wuensch’s report are available here.

Summary of the expected effect of the Woodbrook Elementary expansion on traffic patterns in the year 2022. (EPRpc)

Jack Clark, architect for the project, then gave an overview of the entire project, after which questions were taken from the audience.

Woodbrook resident Audrey Kocher asked if the area designated for bus parking could be reduced or eliminated. “We’re going to have to look at a pretty ugly parking lot,” said Kocher, whose backyard abuts this portion of the school property. “I don’t understand why [the parking lot] has to be so big,” she added. Clark indicated that the current design for angled bus parking is the most efficient method and maximizes the safety of the children. Clark offered to look into using more evergreen trees around the property instead of the current plan to use deciduous trees to hide the parking area.

Woodbrook resident Sandi Taylor asked if a double row of mixed deciduous and evergreen trees could be added between her property and the new south parking lot. The architects confirmed that this is in the current plan.

“Do you have hours of construction determined yet?” asked Taylor. “So, if you remember, you’re doing this in the midst of a community,” she added. “We allow the contractor to work whenever they want to work,” said Clark, adding that “typically for school construction they’re really not working at night.” Taylor also asked if the amphitheater included a public address system. Clark indicated that there were no plans to include a PA system at this time.

“What kind of screening will there be for the service entrance?” asked Kocher. “The dumpsters are required to be screened for the county ordinance,” said Craig Kotarski, a civil engineer with the project. “Everything with the existing school pre-dates the current ordinance,” he said. “Because now you are doing new development you have to then meet these new regulations,” he added.

Woodbrook resident Sharon Evans asked if fire, EMS, and police authorities were contacted as a part of the traffic study. “We met with [the] fire department and emergency services,” said Kotarski. According to Kotarski, a second emergency access on to the school site will be provided off Idlewood Drive. “There’s not another entrance into the Woodbrook neighborhood, but there is a secondary access into the site,” said Kotarski.

“Do you have an idea of what’s going to happen [and] when, construction wise?” asked a member of the audience. According to Clark, site work will begin in the summer of 2017 to get the vehicle circulation changed and to complete some work on the additions. Further renovations will take place in the summer of 2018. The project is expected to be completed by the fall of 2018, according to Clark.

An audience member asked if site contractors will work with abutting property owners to minimize disruption during the construction process. “Typically we don’t want contractors negotiating with homeowners,” said Clark. “We can talk about that some more,” he added.

Audio for the full meeting follows. Readers might find it helpful to view this document, either independently or while listening to the audio. Our thanks go out to Rosalyn Schmitt for providing these slides.

School Expansion Creates Traffic Concerns for Woodbrook Residents

Woodbrook residents and others meet with school officials.
Increased traffic was the main concern for Woodbrook residents at a meeting with Albemarle County officials at Woodbrook Elementary School on Tuesday. Over a hundred people, including many Woodbrook residents, attended the meeting.

The September 6, 2016, meeting was held in the school’s gymnasium and focused on the County’s expansion plans for the school. The meeting was chaired by Dean Tistadt, Albemarle County Public Schools Chief Operating Officer, and Rosalyn Schmitt, Assistant Director of Facilities Planning. Jack Clark from RRMM Architects, the site architects for the project, also spoke at the meeting.

The presentation can be viewed in its entirety here. Readers might find it helpful to view this document while listening to the accompanying meeting audio.

Woodbrook resident Susan Reed expressed the concerns of many neighbors regarding increased traffic in the neighborhood. “You will completely change the character of the neighborhood if you open up another entrance [road],” said Reed. “I’m pretty sure you guys are going to want to do that if you increase the size [of the school],” she added.

Tistadt said that a traffic study has not yet been completed for the site, adding that he didn’t see the need for one. Several Woodbrook residents asked that a traffic study be completed as a part of site planning.

Other issues for Woodbrook residents included drainage and the visual impact of the new school. Woodbrook resident Dick Mathias asked about site drainage. “We’re going to need to deal with the drainage there. That’s one thing we’ve talked about with the county today,” said Tistadt. Woodbrook resident Audrey Kocher asked for a softer look to the “business end” of the school which faces her property. Resident Rose Mary Ratesic would like to see the current green space preserved.

Not everyone at the meeting was opposed to the project. A Greer Elementary School teacher said, “I’d love for you to see what the renovations have done for my children [at Greer]. Both of my children also happen to be in the new wing for Kindergarten with big huge beautiful windows and brightly colored fresh paint. What that does for children and what that does for teachers is huge,” she said.

Neighbors Express Concerns Over Woodbrook Elementary Expansion

Woodbrook Elementary

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.