Wednesday, September 27, 2023

Gathering Stairs, History Display Proposed for Fourth WJCC Middle School

WJCC School Board members review a sketch of the front elevation for the fourth middle school during the Dec. 15, 2015 regular meeting. (Kirsten Petersen/ WYDaily)
WJCC School Board members review a sketch of the front elevation for the fourth middle school during the Dec. 15, 2015 regular meeting. (Kirsten Petersen/WYDaily)

The Williamsburg-James City County School Board got to see early versions of construction documents as well as interior and exterior sketches of the proposed fourth middle school in a presentation Superintendent Steven Constantino called a “bridge from concept to reality.”

Michael Hall, president of educational facility planning company Fanning Howey, said a meeting was held with representatives from the school division last month and changes to the school’s design were made based on their recommendations. For example, the square footage of science classrooms were expanded to accommodate lab activities.

“Everybody that has ownership in the education aspects of the building has had feedback in the design process and has worked with us to offer comments and suggestions, so that’s been a very positive experience with them,” Hall said.

He described sections of the school’s first phase, which is designed to accommodate 600 students and is expected to open in September 2018, as lettered units.

On the first floor, Unit A includes offices, language classrooms and an art room; Unit B has academic “pods” and a multi-use collaboration lab for a total of 200 students per floor; Unit C includes the gym and “auditeria” and Unit D features vocal and instrumental music classrooms.

On the second floor Unit A would include the media center. Unit B on the second and third floors would hold pods and labs as it did on the first.

The construction documents indicate more academic “neighborhoods” in Unit E, an auditorium in Unit F and a fitness addition as sections that would be constructed during the second phase, which would increase the school’s capacity to 900 students and is expected to open in 2023.

Hall then showed members concept art for the school’s gathering stairs, which are designed to be an informal area for students to congregate.

School Board Chairman Jim Kelly said it may be difficult to incorporate the gathering stairs and meet the requirements of the federal Americans with Disabilities Act. Hall said the location of the stairs between the bus entrance and the cafeteria, as well as elevators nearby, ensures the stairs can be an inclusive space.

He highlighted a floor-to-ceiling display case that would include items from the former James Blair High School and Middle School.

The school is set to be built at the site of the former middle school, which currently houses administrative offices.

In addition to the items in the display case, Hall said some auditorium chairs from the middle school would be preserved and installed in front of a video display at the new middle school.

“We’re concerned about the teachers and students but also the community as well,” Hall said.

Finally, Hall revealed a colored sketch of the front elevation of the school, which features a brick façade for the first two floors as well as large windows.

“It’s not an ultra-modern design and it’s not 1699 Williamsburg either,” Hall said. “I think it’s a nice, sensitive approach to what we see as a STEM school.”

Carroll Collins of engineering consultant Kimley-Horn discussed recommendations from a traffic study and Howard Collins, president of Waller, Todd & Sadler Architects reviewed the project timeline.

Carroll Collins recommended enhancements to the original traffic concept, including vehicle stacking in the student drop-off and relocating the administrative office parking lot driveway could help traffic around the school achieve a “D” level of service.

“I know there are educators in the room, but D is okay when it comes to traffic operations,” Carroll Collins said. “That is being able to maintain good flow and relatively minimal delays at the end of the day for two peak periods during traffic operations.”

The traffic study, which was required for the project’s special use permit application with the city, will also be discussed during this afternoon’s City of Williamsburg Planning Commission public hearing.

Howard Collins said there have been no changes to the project timeline since the September design update, noting the next step after the planning commission hearing will be a City Council public hearing Jan. 14.

If the special use permit is approved by the City Council, the planning commission could grant final approval to the site plan as early as March 16, Howard Collins said.

Construction is slated to begin in September 2016.

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