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Center II concept clears next phase of review

Albemarle County schools’ next high school center complies with the county’s comprehensive plan, the Planning Commission said Tuesday, moving the project forward.

The school division decided in November to build the $27 million, 60,000-square-foot Center II on a county-owned site near Monticello High School. No rezoning is required, but the Planning Commission needed to review the project to ensure it complies with the comprehensive plan.

The review only focused on the appropriateness of the site for the proposed public use. The commission did not vote or make a recommendation about whether the facility should be constructed, though board members said they support the project overall.

Preliminary concept plans would develop five acres of the site and not impede any future roads or access to the nearby county-owned lots.

Center II would be accessed from Mill Creek Drive using Founders Place. The most significant impact of the project, according to the staff report, would be increased traffic. The school is expected to generate 600-700 trips per day.

Several commissioners said they wanted to see separate bike lanes, more sustainable designs and plans to accommodate more innovative transportation models.

“Since you are building a new building, you have the opportunity to innovate and create designs that don’t look like it’s a 20th century institutional use,” Commissioner Karen Firehock said.

The division is expecting students to either drive or bike the campus. A few buses from the base high schools also would help to transport students. The site plan doesn’t include a crosswalk or sidewalk improvements to allow students to walk from nearby Monticello.

Lindsay Snoddy, with the division’s building services department, and county planners have said that the curves of the Mill Creek Drive impede sight lines needed for a crosswalk.

The center is a key part of the division’s plans to redesign the high school experience. The pilot center opened in August 2018.

In January, division officials said they wanted to move the academies from Albemarle and Monticello high schools to the new center, but programming decisions are on hold, pending more School Board and community discussion.

Division staff presented a draft plan to board members in February to create 10 more academies by 2022 in the county’s six high school buildings, which includes the charter school and both centers. The School Board requested much more information about that plan and wanted to see more community input, a process derailed by the pandemic that will start in earnest this fall.

Julian Bivins, chairman of the commission, said he was supportive of the center model but had a suggestion for a potential Center III.

“That the School Board looks seriously at placing that on the Lambs Lane campus, which is Albemarle High School, Greer [Elementary] and Jouett [Middle School], the soon-to-be Boys and Girls Club and the Ivy School,” he said.

This move would fit with the division’s goal of modernizing existing high school facilities, said Bivins, who represents the Jouett magisterial district. The Lambs Lane campus currently houses the division’s School Bus depot, garage and gas station.

Those industrial uses could be moved to sites further up U.S. 29 where the school division has land it can use, he said.

“The parents at Western [Albemarle High School] would never have a garage, a gas place and a bus depot on their campus,” he said, adding that he assumed the same sentiment among Monticello parents.

The 15-acre site is one of several undeveloped parcels in the Mill Creek Drive Center. The 5th and Avon CAC has requested a small area plan and collaborative community process to determine the best uses for the properties.

The only mark against the Center II project was that a community process has not occurred. However, staff wrote that the school is on a small portion of the Mill Creek Drive center, which encompasses about 46 acres, and that Center II will not impede community planning for the remaining area.

At a March community meeting that was lightly attended, no major issues of concern regarding the scope or scale of the project were expressed, according to the staff report.

No one spoke at Tuesday’s public hearing.


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