James City Supervisors back School Board plan for 4th middle school

The Williamsburg-James City School Board's most recent plan for a phased-in approach to a fourth middle school at the James Blair site has won the support of a majority of the James City Board of Supervisors.

Following a joint work session between the School Board and the Board of Supervisors on Tuesday, the supervisors voted 4-1 to back the first phase of the plan.

The supervisors' approval comes about five years after the start of dialogue about how to handle growing enrollment at the middle school level.

Phase one of the new plan calls for a $29.6 million renovation of the site that would have the WJC Schools central offices sharing the James Blair property with a middle school for 600 students, to open in the 2018-19 school year. The plan calls for the school to be expanded a few years later to house a total of 900 students, which would necessitate the relocation of the administrative offices. That expansion could cost between $21 million and $29 million more, according to rough estimates provided by the school's architects.

Vice Chair Michael Hipple made a motion to endorse the School Board's latest plan. The motion simultaneously tapped the county administrator to do a feasibility study of keeping all of the county's offices together under one roof.

Citing issues related to the overall cost, the size of the James Blair site and whether the building would actually meet the students' needs, Supervisor Jim Kennedy cast the lone vote against the motion.

"My concerns are the lukewarm response from the members of the School Board about this project," he said. "It appears to me that this isn’t something that you absolutely want....  I understand the desire and the necessity to move something. I want to do that, but I don’t’ want to be pennywise and pound foolish, either."

Board Chair Mary Jones said she supported the School Board's proposal because she favored building on the James Blair site "as opposed to building an entire new middle school on a whole other piece of property."

"This also ... puts us in a stronger fiscal position because we will have more options in the future, and it will give us some time to take a step back," Jones said.

Hipple said the phased-in plan represents "what we were both trying to get," referring to both a new middle school to ease capacity problems and a solution that fits the immediate needs of the county's budget.

"I think it’s bridged that gap," Hipple said.

Supervisor John McGlennon supported Hipple's motion because he favored using the James Blair site. "I happen to think the location here is a good one that allows more easy access to middle school programming and the like for parents," he said.

Supervisor Kevin Onizuk said his support of the motion came reluctantly, much like the hesitance that some of the School Board members expressed when they voted to adopt the new phased-in approach as their new preferred plan of action on Oct. 21.

"I don't know that this was necessarily an ideal situation but ... we have space challenges, we have time challenges right now, and we have economic challenges," Onizuk said. "I appreciate you all coming up with the compromise plan. The one thing that does give me comfort in the resolution or the motion is the focus on future planning."

Sampson can be reached at 757-345-2345.

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