The Williamsburg City Council agreed a school would be an appropriate use of the land at the site of the former James Blair Middle School, voting unanimously Thursday afternoon to approve a special use permit for the Williamsburg-James City County School Division’s proposed fourth middle school.
After residents offered public comment for and against construction of a fourth middle school, Vice Mayor Paul Freiling said the matter on the table was not whether the school was needed but rather if the site met the criteria to host a school.
“This site served the entire community as a school for decades. It worked very well,” Freiling said. “The question at hand is, ‘Is this an appropriate land use for this purpose at this site?’ and I think it is.”
During its Dec. 15 meeting the city’s Planning Commission was unanimous in its recommendation that the council approve the SUP. The recommendation was made on the condition that certain traffic improvements are installed and a height variance is approved before the second phase of the school is built, according to a staff memo.
A traffic study by engineering consultant Kimley-Horn was submitted with the SUP application to analyze the effects of a school on traffic around the site. The study found that, due to planned improvements at Ironbound and Longhill roads, increases in traffic volume would be nominal and no physical capacity enhancements are proposed.
Planned improvements include 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 proposed access driveways for the school include a dedicated driveway for school buses and a separate driveway for student drop-off, both on Longhill Road. A faculty staff entrance proposed for Ironbound Road could be modified during the second phase of the project – it would either align with Middle Street or relocate to a new signalized intersection at Treyburn Drive.
The College of William & Mary, which identifies the location of the Treyburn Drive option as the site of a future athletic complex in its Master Plan, has participated in early discussions with the WJCC School Division about the potential staff entrance.
City Council members praised the proposed access driveways as an improvement to the current configuration and the roadway improvements as a boon to nearby businesses.
“This is an opportunity to improve access to a public space, a public school but also improve access to a valuable commercial corridor,” Councilman Scott Foster said. “That intersection doesn’t function as it should today.”
Freiling suggested the proposed traffic pattern was superior to those he has experienced at Berkeley Middle School and Lafayette High School.
“This traffic situation, especially after the road improvements are made, should function far better than either of those,” Freiling said. “To me, that’s a step in the right direction.”
The fourth middle school would be constructed in two phases: the first would accommodate 600 students and opening in 2018, while the second would expand capacity to 900 students and would open in 2023.
The Planning Commission could grant final approval to the site plan as early as March 16, and with all the required permits and approvals, demolition of the old middle school could begin as early as September.
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