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After a brief presentation and a public hearing with no speakers, the Williamsburg Planning Commission voted unanimously to recommend the City Council grant a special use permit for the construction of a fourth middle school.
Deputy Planning Director Carolyn Murphy walked planning commissioners through the proposed design for the middle school, which would be built at the site of the former James Blair Middle School, and explained the proposed different traffic flow for buses, parents dropping off children and staff working at the school.
The project is located in the city’s Single Family Dwelling District RS-2, which is a low density zoning primarily for homes. Although the old school building remains on the site, it houses administrative offices and the Williamsburg-James City County School Division must submit an application for a special use permit so the new middle school can be built in its place.
The school would be constructed in two phases, the first accommodating 600 students and opening in 2018, while the second would expand capacity to 900 students with additional learning space and would open in 2023. The proposal includes relocating the bus entrance and student drop-off entrance to Longhill Road from the current entrance on Ironbound Road.
A traffic study was required with the special use permit application. The study, which was completed by engineering consultant Kimley-Horn, recommended enhancements like vehicle stacking in the student drop-off and endorsed improvements already planned for the roads adjacent to the school, including realigning Longhill Road and a new intersection location within Ironbound Road; modifying the lanes at Ironbound at Longhill; and installing a traffic signal at the intersection.
Construction on the intersection realignment is expected to begin in April 2017.
The application was recommended under the condition that traffic improvements are installed and a height variance is approved before the second phase of the school is built.
Before the vote, second vice chairwoman Elaine McBeth said she believed the architects had done a good job and she is looking forward to the school becoming a reality.
“We’ve had a school here for decades, and it’s a good repurpose,” McBeth said. “I think it’s nice having another school in the city for our children of the city as well as neighboring county children.”
The City Council will vote to approve or deny the special use permit during its Jan. 14 meeting. If approved, the planning commission could grant final approval to the site plan as early as March 16, said Howard Collins, president of Waller, Todd & Sadler Architects.
With all the required permits and approvals, demolition of the old middle school could begin as early as September 2016.