When Center II opens its doors, it will become the new home of the Math, Engineering & Science Academy and the Health and Medical Science Academy.
The move is expected to provide more opportunities and free up space at Albemarle and Monticello High schools, which have housed MESA and HMSA, respectively. The division’s Environmental Studies Academy is housed at Western Albemarle.
“By building from scratch, it gives us an opportunity to provide specialized spaces for both of these programs that we need for either engineering or medicine,” Jeff Prillaman, chief planner for Albemarle’s specialty centers, said at a meeting with the 5th and Avon Community Advisory Committee on Thursday evening.
Prillaman said classroom space for MESA and HMSA was retrofitted without knowing what the programs would turn into. The division recently built a new science wing at Western Albemarle for ESA.
“It’s an opportunity for students to have more opportunity,” he said.
The location change is part of a broader rethinking of the division’s approach to academies, some of which began in 2009. Starting in the 2022-23 school year, students won’t have to leave their base high school to be enrolled in an academy and will not have to apply.
Currently, students must fill out an application and meet certain requirements.
Center II is expected to open in August 2022.
At Thursday’s meeting, division staff discussed plans for the new school building. Last month, the Board of Supervisors transferred the deed for 15 acres near Monticello High where the school division intends to build the $27 million, 60,000-square-foot Center II.
The division looked at more than a dozen properties before selecting the site at 133 Galaxie Farm Lane. The entrance to Center II would be off Founders Place near the county’s fire and rescue station along Mill Creek Drive.
Prillaman said the division’s specialty learning opportunities have long depended on where a student lives, creating a barrier for participating.
“So we started to think about things like equity, and the fact that geography should not necessarily determine what educational opportunities you’re able to take advantage of,” he told the CAC.
The planned academy changes have long been requested by students and parents.
“There’s a large group of kids from the southern and western feeder patterns who would do MESA if they could stay at their base school,” he said.
About one-third of students in the academies are attending a school that is not their base school, Prillaman said.
Officials want 400 students to attend Center II per day for a total of 800 students. They are anticipating that reaching that goal will take a few years.
This school year, about 470 students attend MESA and HMSA, combined.
Prillaman said MESA annually receives about 175 to 200 applications but only has 72 spots for each class due to space limitations.
“As an educator for MESA, it killed me that we had to say no,” he said.
The division decided in 2017 on the center model to address capacity concerns at Albemarle and Western Albemarle High schools along with rethinking the high school experience, officials have said.
Center II would be open to 10th- to 12th-graders, Prillaman said.
No rezoning is required for the Galaxie Farm site.
Preliminary concept plans would develop five acres of the site and not impede any future roads or access to the nearby county-owned lots.
“We don’t want to overdevelop the site,” Lindsay Snoddy, with the school’s building services department, told the CAC.
CAC members were generally supportive, but some wanted to see more plans for bicycle and pedestrian access, including to Monticello High School.
Quinn Evans is the architect on the project. The division will host a community meeting tentatively scheduled for Feb. 20 at Monticello High to discuss Center II and design ideas.
School division officials will discuss their broader strategy for programming in the centers and expanding the academies in a work session with the School Board next month.