Proposal to move 21st Century Academy
The chairman of the Chesterfield County Planning Commission came out last week in support of a School Board member’s proposal to put the brakes on the creation of a new technical career education center at the former Clover Hill High School.
During a review of the Public Facilities Plan section of the new draft comprehensive plan, commission Chairman Russ Gulley – who represents the Clover Hill district – objected to language that recommends turning the old school into the 21st Century Skills Academy to support career and technical education.”
Instead, Gulley said, the proposed technical center “should be moved farther east in the Hull Street corridor near the Chippenham-360 interchange.” The facilities plan should be rewritten to remove the Clover Hill recommendation, he said.
That suggestion was in line with a proposal made recently by Carrie Coyner, the freshman School Board member for the Bermuda District. She called for moving the proposed technical school to the Manchester Middle School building near the intersection of Hull Street and Turner Road.
She also proposed selling the old Clover Hill High for development, noting that it has considerable resale value because it sits in the middle of the fast-growing western portion of the Hull Street corridor. It could be rezoned for mixed uses of retail, office and/or multifamily.
Gulley tentatively endorsed the idea of selling the school property last week, suggesting that the commission should “craft a statement that sometime in the future, the best use of the old Clover Hill High School might be to market it” for development.
Bermuda District Commissioner Dale Patton said he liked “the idea of a more central location” for the new technical center but called attention to the fact that work on the academy at the Clover Hill site is already under way.
Bill Brown, Dale District commissioner, suggested that while it might be appropriate to remove the Clover Hill High School location from the facilities plan, the commission didn’t necessarily need to replace it with another specific recommendation.
Matoaca District Commissioner Edgar Wallin suggested that the commission might not want to advise the School Board on a project that has been under development for several years.
“I think the commission needs to be cautious about specifying a facility,” he said. “I know the Clover Hill west area is growing. That’s where the largest growth and the most pressing needs for classroom space are going to be.”
Gulley said he didn’t intend to specify a location for the technical center but “just wanted to place options on the table.” He agreed that “there needs to be detailed study,” including how much the Clover Hill property is worth.
County records show the property covers 49.4 acres and has a value of $13.8 million. Besides the 151,000-square-foot, two-story school building, it has a large paved parking lot, athletic fields and a football stadium. The fields are being used by athletic associations, and Gulley said the county should keep those even if the rest of the property is sold.
The proposed career academy would increase the county’s technical education capacity by 800 students over the 1,300 students at the existing Chesterfield Technical Center on Courthouse Road. It has been in the works since 2009 and has gotten a green light from both the School Board and the Board of Supervisors.
The total cost of the project is estimated at $27 million, and the county has appropriated the funding.
School officials have said they are concerned that a major change in plans now could delay the project significantly. The academy is scheduled to open in the fall of 2013.
“We’re at the eleventh hour,” Matoaca District School Board member Tom Doland told the Observer last month. “It would be a major upset to the people in the county after we’ve spent the time, energy and money … if it was stopped.”
David Wyman, vice chairman of the School Board and Dale District member, told the Observer previously that he is concerned that a change to Manchester would delay the opening. He said that could disappoint “the 600 students who are turned away each year” from technical education because the existing Technical Center can’t handle the number of applicants.