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Lafayette High School athletes scored another victory last night in their campaign to achieve parity with Jamestown and Warhill students, as the James City County Planning Commission made a requested auxiliary gym a higher capital improvement priority.
The Commission was tasked with approving a priority ranking for 15 capital improvement projects, 10 of which were items from the WJCC School Division. An order was determined by the Commission’s Policy Committee after members heard reports from departments requesting capital improvement project funds and objectively ranked projects using a scoring system.
The Policy Committee recommended a ranking earlier this month that made stormwater neighborhood drainage improvement and water quality improvements the top priority and two facility improvements at Lafayette – an auxiliary gym and a walkway to the Williamsburg Indoor Sports Complex – the lowest.
However, during Monday’s meeting the Commission unanimously approved a motion to improve the ranking of the auxiliary gym from the 14th priority – the second-lowest position – to the fifth priority. The decision shifted the rankings of all items below No. 5 down one position, meaning an entrance redesign at Jamestown High School is now the No. 6 priority.
The decision came after commissioners heard from parents and coaches during a public hearing on the county’s 2017-2021 capital improvements program.
Kathy Woollum, president of the LHS Athletics Boosters, recounted parents’ successful request to add the gym, walkway and field lighting to the WJCC School Division’s 10-year Capital Improvements Program late last year.
She distributed a packet to commissioners that included a letter explaining the need for each facility improvement, information parents said the school division did not provide to the Policy Committee before it calculated the rankings.
“You were asked to do a job with limited data unfortunately, and our job tonight is to supplement that data so you can make an informed decision,” Woollum said.
The packet also included a chart detailing the practice schedules and logistical requirements of student athletes, coaches and parents; an athletic facilities comparison of the three WJCC high schools; plans for an auxiliary gym at Grafton High School in York County, a school that faced similar facility challenges to Lafayette; and a proposed solution that would incorporate the potential facility improvements.
The proposed solution recommends building the auxiliary gym before or concurrently with the demolition of the former James Blair Middle School, where some sports teams currently practice; completing a field refurbishment project to correct drainage issues; installing field lighting to permit evening practices; and constructing a walkway to WISC as a “safe and practical” way to travel to practice facilities.
“Our goal is that, after reviewing the data, hearing perspectives from those in our community and seeing the solution in the context of the broader solution, you will rank the needs of Lafayette by the priority they are,” Woollum said.
R.W. “Hap” Holm, whose son is a sophomore football player, said Lafayette coaches, especially LHS Athletics Director Dan Barner, and parents should be commended for their dedication to students.
“This is a fine group of people. We care,” Holm said. “We’re standing together before you today to ask for your assistance and I think these people deserve it.”
Parent Tommy Neville’s oldest son graduated from Jamestown but his children now attend Lafayette. He said calling the differences between the schools’ facilities “stark” would be “a vast understatement.”
“At the end of the day, it’s about all of these young people that are out there. They don’t complain. They just go out and get the job done,” Neville said. “It’s time to reinvest in a great school and time to reinvest in some great student athletes.”
The commissioners agreed a disparity exists among the schools in terms of facilities, but ideas varied on how to address it through the CIP.
Commissioner Tim O’Connor (At-Large), who will take over as Commission Chairman next month, suggested swapping the ranking of the auxiliary gym with the No.4-ranked James City County Marina, as the gym could affect more community members than adding boat slips to the marina.
He maintained his assertion that the walkway, which is estimated to cost about $1.18 million, is not necessary when safe alternative routes, such as the sidewalk on Longhill Road, could be used more effectively.
“I don’t feel that is the best and highest use of our money,” O’Connor said. “I think between scheduling practices and the buses, we can figure out a way to [get students to practice] for a lot less money.”
Commission Chairwoman Robin Bledsoe (Jamestown) concurred with O’Connor before proposing the switch to No. 5 for the gym. Commissioners Chris Basic (Berkeley) and Rich Krapf (Powhatan) hesitated to support such a high ranking, emphasizing the need to preserve the integrity of the ranking process.
Bledsoe said moving the auxiliary gym up would send a message to the Board of Supervisors, who will review the CIP next month.
“We are making the point that the auxiliary gym was ranked incorrectly and we needed to move it up,” Bledsoe said.
The auxiliary gym is estimated to cost about $2.45 million.
While it was mostly Lafayette parents who spoke before the dais last night, Woollum said the student representation – about a third of the audience consisted of Lafayette students or future students – was key to the evening’s accomplishment.
“The showing of so many student athletes made a big difference in getting our point across,” Woollum said. “Equally important, I am so glad that they were able to witness a community respectfully voicing their interests, and a healthy, yet civil dialogue on the dais.”