The Albemarle school division’s Long Range Planning Advisory Committee (LRPAC) presented its annual report to the School Board on July 11, highlighting a $20.4 million expansion and renovation at Crozet Elementary as its top large-scale capital project priority. The LRPAC is composed of ten citizens appointed by the School Board and superintendent and is supported by six county staff members, led by Chief Operating Officer (and Crozet resident) Rosalyn Schmitt.
This year’s report features a $180 million needs-based Capital Improvement Plan that covers a variety of maintenance, security, capacity, and renovation projects recommended for county school facilities. School building needs are based primarily on enrollment projections set against capacity constraints, and the data for the Western feeder pattern reflects its dramatic expected population growth.
“If you look at the numbers, they’re expecting Crozet to double in size in the next 30 years,” said David Oberg, the School Board’s White Hall District representative. “Thirty years may seem like a long time, but it’s really not, and the reality is we’re playing catch up [on capital expenditures] from 10 to 15 years ago.”
Brownsville Elementary, which already employs eight mobile classrooms, is expected to enroll more than 150 students over the building’s capacity within the next five years, while Crozet Elementary, which is less than half Brownsville’s size, will be almost 60 students over. Both schools are characterized in the report as having high neighborhood growth, high capacity conflicts, high population growth, and a high rate of development as compared to other geographic clusters in the county.
Three new growth models were used to project future enrollments this year. 1) A historical neighborhood analysis documented the number of students riding a school bus each year by district over the last 10 years to evaluate cycles of student growth and stability. 2) The county’s new Development Dashboard data used information regarding projects in the development pipeline and their impact on population growth. 3) Data from the Charlottesville/Albemarle Metropolitan Planning Organization in conjunction with forecasts from the Weldon Cooper Center allowed for population projects to extend out to 30 years instead of the usual 10.
Amanda Alger, White Hall citizen representative on the LRPAC, is glad the new data was added but is still not convinced of the reliability of the projections. “Having volunteered at the BES Newcomers’ picnic every August since our first after moving here six years ago, my gut tells me the numbers projected are still very low,” said Alger. “My experience tells me that many more move here in August each year.”
Crozet Elementary’s expansion is currently number four overall on the priority list of capital projects, after school safety improvements, a new data center for the county, and elevator additions at six schools, all of which are are smaller-scale projects. A Crozet addition has been recommended in some form by the LRPAC since 2006, and the current plan would add 28,000 square feet to the school, including 16 classrooms, one special education classroom, three smaller resource classrooms, and various support spaces.
In addition, the project would expand the cafeteria and media center, improve the front office and outdoor learning areas, and provide additional parking and play equipment. The LRPAC justifies its recommendation by noting that an addition can be constructed and open sooner to provide quicker relief than constructing a new school.
There are also staffing benefits to the plan. “A larger enrollment at Crozet brings the school across staffing thresholds that would provide the school benefits such as an assistant principal and full-time art and music teachers,” according to the LRPAC report.
Alger understands that people would rather avoid change but says this project is imperative. “If we do nothing, I’m concerned that our amazing [BES] librarian, gifted resource teacher and other specialists will be tasked with serving way too many kids,” she said. “It is simply not an option to do nothing. I truly think this process will leave us with two pretty equitable schools.”
Once the expansion is complete, the plan is for some Brownsville students to be redistricted to Crozet to balance out enrollments and relieve overcrowding. A redistricting committee would be formed and would hold public hearings prior to any decisions. Though he’s already getting emails from residents who are against redistricting their children to Crozet Elementary, Oberg is not entirely sympathetic. “I’ve been to every elementary school within 150 miles, and I specifically moved to send my child to Crozet,” he said. “I love Crozet. It’s a great school.”
The design work for the project is currently funded and will begin soon. The School Board will discuss the LRPAC priorities at their August meeting, and if they approve and the Board of Supervisors funds the project, construction would be completed in time for the 2022/23 school year.