Planners green light new school

Without public dissent the Williamsburg Planning Commission unanimously voted Wednesday to recommend to City Council approval of a request for a special use permit by the W-JCC Schools to build a fourth middle school on the existing James Blair property.

Although the project would continue the existing use of the property Planning Director Reed Nester said the demolition of the existing structures on the property and construction of the news school "triggers the need for the special use permit."

Commission member Elaine McBeth spoke for most of the planners.

"It's really hard to think of a reason that we should oppose this. We've had a school on that property for decades until quite recently," she said.

After the staff presentation, no one spoke during the public hearing on the plan.

Commissioners did express some traffic concerns but were reassured by improvements the city plans for the Ironbound Road/Longhill Road intersection beginning in 2017.

Those will result in that intersection being moved slightly and signalized. Those improvement are also part of the plan for the Aldi's supermarket going up across Ironbound Road from the school site.

Negotiations are also ongoing with the College of William and Mary over possibly bringing a rear exit from the school through the college's Dillard Complex property to reach the signalized intersection at Ironbound Road and Treyburn Drive.

The plan now goes to City Council for approval at its January meeting.

Last October, the division voted to build a new middle school at James Blair in two phases. During an August meeting, board members received an update on concepts for how the school would look inside.

In November, the W-JCC School Board awarded an engineering contract for the project to a local firm who would review the fourth middle school plan to make sure it’s being done efficiently. The firm would also make the district aware of any potential cost savings.

School officials have said a steady increase in the district's enrollment and projections for coming years make a new middle school a necessity. As of October, the district serves more than 11,300 students in Williamsburg and James City County.

The new middle school would join the district's three others — Toano, Berkeley and Lois S. Hornsby — and be built at the James Blair building which currently houses the district's Central Offices.

W-JCC Schools plan calls for a fourth middle school to be built in two phases, starting with the demolition of  the existing auditorium, gym, cafeteria, media center and band/choir areas in September 2016.

Once built, the 600-student school is slated to open in 2018, with the district's central offices still located at James Blair. Phase two would demolish the rest of the school for a new wing to open in 2023, expanding enrollment to 900.

W-JCC central offices would then move to another location, but district officials have not said where that will be or the exact costs for the move.

Michelle Canty contributed to this story.

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