Tuesday, June 18, 2024

Hipple to JCC Supes: ‘Make Decisions and Move Forward’ with Fourth Middle School

WJCC_James BlairThree members of the James City County Board of Supervisors are urging fellow board members to “go full throttle ahead or nothing at all” when it comes to continuing with or canceling plans for the fourth middle school.

The school, which has been proposed for the site of the former James Blair Middle School, is now a regular topic of public comment at both Board of Supervisors meetings and WJCC School Board meetings.

Residents have raised concerns about the accuracy of enrollment projections and the need to build a fourth middle school at all when the annex of the former James Blair could mitigate capacity issues.

During the board’s budget retreat last month, Supervisor Kevin Onizuk (Jamestown) called for a joint meeting with the WJCC School Board and the Williamsburg City Council to revisit the need for a fourth middle school.

Onizuk was one of four supervisors who approved the two-phase plan for a 950-seat middle school in November 2014.

Board Chairman Michael Hipple (Powhatan), who discussed the fourth middle school’s financing and enrollment projections at a Feb. 11 meeting with officials from the WJCC School Division and the City of Williamsburg, said what citizens are saying about the fourth middle school and what elected officials are saying “don’t seem to be jiving as tight.”

He urged the board to look at the issue from the “30,000 level,” rather than “in the weeds cutting grass.” Whether the board considers information offered by citizens or hired personnel, they should “go full throttle ahead or nothing at all,” he said.

“I think as leaders of this community, we have to make decisions and move forward,” Hipple said. “If we don’t, there’s no need [for us] sitting in these seats.”

Onizuk said as leaders, board members should also “re-examine” decisions when they receive “new and different information.” He said he would rely on the School Board for answers to some of his “lingering” questions, adding the Board of Supervisors owes it to the people who are speaking out about the fourth middle school to give the plan a “final vetting.”

Supervisor Ruth Larson (Berkeley), a former WJCC School Board member, countered Onizuk’s intention to rely on the School Board, noting the body had indicated there was a need for a fourth middle school and enrollment projections provided by the school division affirm that need.

“We’re not trusting them by revisiting,” Larson said.

Larson had originally brought up the fourth middle school for discussion Tuesday night when she asked if there was consensus on the board to revisit plans for the school.

“The city has moved ahead with their part. The board last year, it was my understanding [the fourth middle school] was approved 4-1,” Larson said. “If there’s consensus on this board to revisit that … I think that would be best served at a meeting between the James City County Board and the School Board, rather than take up the time at a joint meeting.”

Vice Chairman John McGlennon (Roberts) said the fourth middle school has been extensively discussed and, although he did not have additional questions about the project because he was “satisfied with the outcome,” he encouraged fellow board members to put theirs to paper.

“I am perfectly willing to accept the idea that every member of this board has to get an opportunity to be fully apprised of the facts, but I think the first step really ought to be to lay out the questions people have, to get that information in front of everyone and then decide if the meeting is necessary face-to-face among the boards,” McGlennon said.

Supervisor Sue Sadler (Stonehouse) said she wants to make sure the board considers comments from residents and supported an opportunity to continue the discussion.

“If we can save money just by having a few more discussions on this, I’m all for it,” Sadler said. “I just want to make sure we have all the information we need.”

County Administrator Bryan Hill said the county, School Board and City of Williamsburg are aiming to have its annual joint meeting during the first week of April.

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