School board considers expansions to relieve overcrowding

Contact Reporterwwright@vagazette.com

Adding classroom space could be in the plans as the Williamsburg-James City County School District deals with growth in the coming years.

Representatives from New York-based consulting firm FutureThink provided the board with a series of projections, the most likely of which predicts enrollment could increase by more than 400 students 10 years from now.

That number isn’t quite high enough to convince board Chairwoman Kyra Cook that a new school should be in district’s plans.

"I don't think that justifies a fourth high school," Cook said.

Board members agreed Monday that adding classrooms may be the best way to handle the issue in the short term, in lieu of building a new school.

The district’s capital improvement plan allows for 12 new classrooms in Jamestown and eight for both Warhill and Lafayette.

Adding the classrooms would cost about $25 million.

Each area high school is at or over capacity. Buildings are intended to be 88 percent full, and Lafayette was at that threshold in 2016-17.

At 90 percent and 110 percent, both Warhill and Jamestown were over capacity.

District projections say by 2019, all area high schools will have reached their full capacity.

Kelly thinks adding classroom space may be a smart move until the district has a better idea of how quickly it’s growing.

“It’s not a bad fiscal alternative (to building a school),” he said.

Board member Julie Hummel mentioned her apprehension about using trailers. They present a security risk, she said.

"We are in a different space than back in the ’80s," she said, adding she was against building another school given FutureThink’s projections.

Since state law prevents Virginia school boards from raising money, members have to depend on James City County and the city of Williamsburg for much of their funding.

James Beers said building a school could be a smarter decision than expanding existing facilities.

"I do not support the idea of simply expanding existing high schools,” he said.

Beers added that in past years, voters in both Williamsburg and James City County strongly passed referendums in support of new high schools.

Beers said his understanding is that the county might prefer the board to push for a fourth high school. Spending an estimated $25 million on additional classrooms could be better spent on another solution, he said.

“(County staff) are are very much in favor of long-term planning," Beers said. “That’s almost half of a high school.”

Board members will take up the expansion issue and the related redistricting issue at their Nov. 28 meeting.

Wright can be reached by phone at 757-345-2343.

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