City Council approves W-JCC School growth guidelines

Staff writer

City Council unanimously approved a set of guidelines to better develop a response plan to the growing capacity issues at W-JCC schools at its monthly meeting Thursday evening.

The guidelines, suggested by the W-JCC School Board’s School Liaison Committee, plot a course of action as elementary and high schools in the division reach or exceed their capacities for students.

The School Board recommended that governing bodies in Williamsburg and James City County pass resolutions in support of the guidelines, and the county’s Board of Supervisors adopted a similar resolution earlier this week, according to City Manager Andrew Trivette.

The board recommends that when the student capacity at any elementary or secondary school reaches 85 percent, the school division will task its Long Range Planning Committee with evaluating needs and potential solutions. When that capacity reaches 90 percent, that same committee will prepare a plan of action, and the board will review current and projected student enrollment numbers to determine whether a more aggressive approach is necessary.

“The joint bodies all agreed that we needed to have some type of process to get out in front of that decision-making process so that we can be in more of a planning mindset as opposed to a reactive mindset,” Trivette said. “The decision of the bodies involved was that we establish trigger points at which certain actions would occur.”

According to the agenda item summary for the resolution, five of nine W-JCC elementary schools are past their maximum student capacity. In W-JCC high schools, total capacity exceeds 95 percent.

Trivette and members of council stressed that by adopting the resolution, they wouldn’t be forced to begin planning the construction of a new school as soon as an existing school reaches 85 percent of its capacity. Rather, the guidelines allow for long-term plans that the School Board, Board of Supervisors and City Council all have to approve before any action can be taken.

“It in no way obligates the joint school system to take the action recommended,” Trivette said. “All this really does is establishes a point at which we’re really going to start looking at planning for the growth.”

City Council members agreed that the guidelines will be helpful for all three bodies in the coming years.

“it’s an annual review and it doesn’t dictate action, it just helps us to be better prepared,” said council member Barbara Ramsey. “If this had been in place 10 or 12 years ago, perhaps we wouldn’t be in the situation that we’re in now.”

“We’re putting together these trigger points to help us plan better, but also to take away the ability for folks to say that we weren’t thinking about this ahead of time,” said Vice-Mayor Doug Pons.

Other items of note

Also at the meeting, the board approved a resolution that requires companies to receive a special-use permit from council before being allowed to remove parking spaces downtown. Council also unanimously approved a slate of ordinances relating to the city’s police department.

One such ordinance establishes a multi-step process which allows the Williamsburg Police Department to eliminate “criminal blights” in the city. After locating buildings in the city being used to house, manufacture or distribute illegal drugs, discharge firearms or as sites for prostitution, the police department would first contact the property owner to cease the criminal activity. If no action is taken, City Attorney Christina Shelton said, the police department could take the property owner to court and shut the building down.

Another ordinance updates language in the city code around prostitution and related offenses. The last of the ordinances sets a list of minimum operating standards for massage parlors in the city, which sets a list of sanitary requirements and outlaw any form of sex acts. Failure to adhere to the operating standards will result in a Class 1 misdemeanor, according to the adopted ordinance.

Council also unanimously authorized the city manager’s office to grant the city’s Economic Development Authority $15,000 to purchase and install trees with string lights along Prince George Street.

Following Council’s approval, 14 evergreen trees will be planted in pots and will be placed along two blocks of Prince George Street between North Henry Street and Armistead Avenue next week, each lit by sets of battery-powered string lights. The EDA also will purchase string lights to wrap around a large willow oak tree owned by William and Mary at the corner of Prince George and Boundary Streets.

At Monday’s work session, EDA Chairman Adam Steely said the lights would be installed at the willow oak tree by Christmas. The lights will stay up until March 1.

Arriaza can be reached at 757-790-9313 or on Twitter @rodrigoarriaza0.

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