As the city’s Planning Commission continues to craft its next five-year comprehensive plan, the board invited representatives from Williamsburg Regional Library and Williamsburg-James City County Schools for a briefing on their future construction and renovation needs.
WRL Director Betsy Fowler highlighted issues with the city’s downtown library, while Marcellus Snipes, senior director for operations at W-JCC Schools, focused on capacity issues at area high schools and elementary schools and how the School Board aims to address those needs through its five-year capital spending plan.
A new or renovated downtown library
Fowler updated the board on the issues with the library on Scotland Street and possible paths forward for the building.
As she explained, the 40,000-square-foot facility is popular among city and county residents, but the aging facility cannot adequately support the level of usage it has received — and is likely to continue to receive — in the coming years.
“A lot of people get confused and think that if you live in the city, you come to the city library and if you live in the county, you go to the James City County library,” Fowler said. “In fact, a lot of people use both libraries and a lot of people use the Williamsburg library.”
In her presentation, Fowler estimated the Scotland Street library will receive nearly 375,000 visits this year, while the library on Croaker Road is expected to receive 166,000 visits.
She said issues at the downtown library range from a rigid, restrictive layout that limits the number of events and activities that are possible in the building, to an inadequate number of parking spaces and safety concerns posed by the building’s three entrances.
In the coming years, Fowler said city and county boards will need to consider how best to serve library users living within their jurisdictions.
“There’s several paths forward,” she said. “The current building could be enlarged and renovated, it could be torn down and replaced, or James City County could elect to go ahead and build a third library in the county that would decrease the number of visitors coming here.”
Renovating the existing Scotland Street building would address space needs, but would leave parking concerns unaddressed and would require the library to be closed during the renovation work. Fowler estimated a renovation could cost $10 million, or $17 million with an addition to the building.
Because the city library has such a high level of patronage from James City County residents, the WRL Board of Trustees also has explored the possibility of building a new downtown library that would be jointly funded by the city and the county.
A jointly-funded library would address space needs, and the smaller footprint afforded by a new two or three-story building could allow for more parking spots, Fowler said.
“The big boon is you would share capital costs up front and reduce long-term operating costs,” she said. “If you’re doing two buildings versus three buildings, you’re going to get long-term savings.”
Costs for an entirely new downtown library building could range from $18 million to $20 million, and the new facility would still require additional accessible parking costs.
While some Planning Commission members agreed that a new facility would address the majority of the issues Fowler highlighted, others weren’t convinced.
“I think I still need to be persuaded that a radical change is needed downtown,” Planning Commission First Vice-Chairman Jeff Klee said. “I want to see us proceed carefully as we think about solving the problems that you’ve identified, and my own personal preference is to favor those solutions that involve the least disruption to that facility.”
Capacity issues at W-JCC Schools
Snipes said two out of three W-JCC high schools are at more than 90 percent of their recommended capacity limits, and are projected to exceed those limits over the next nine years.
The school division aims to address capacity issues at Warhill and Jamestown high schools by expanding both schools, rather than building an entirely new high school, he said.
Eight out of nine elementary schools also are near or exceeding their recommended capacity, he said. Five of those schools are over their capacity limits, including Matthew Whaley, the only elementary school in the city.
Snipes said the School Board favors building a 10th elementary school within the next two or three years based on rising enrollment numbers.
“We also requested a 10th elementary school in the Capital Improvement Plan,” he said. “That’s because the total enrollment at the elementary schools, including Pre-K, is at 98 percent and the total projected enrollment is over 100 percent by fiscal year 2026.”
Construction costs for a 10th elementary are estimated at $38.53 million, he said.
Arriaza can be reached at 757-790-9313 or on Twitter @rodrigoarriaza0.