I hope that this email finds you well and that you and your families are enjoying the nice, warm weather that we’ve had this week! It has been awhile since I last provided you all with an update on the Crozet ES project, and I wanted to take this opportunity to do so, as well as make you aware of some work that will be happening early next week. I apologize in advance for the lengthy email, but I hope you find it helpful.
Also, please feel free to forward this to anyone else in the community that may be interested. I sent to everyone in the nearby area that I have an email for, but there are many that I do not. If there are individuals or neighbors that did not get my original email and would like to be included in future correspondence, please have them reach out to me and I will add them to the distribution list!
General Project Update
Since my last update the design team was able to complete the full design of the project, and has been finalizing the site review process. Some of you may have received notifications from the Community Development Department during that process. The team expects to receive approval on the site plan in the next few weeks, as many of the various permitting agencies have already signed off on the plans, including VDOT’s approval of the proposed entrances to the site.
Currently, the project is out for bidding, with contractors’ bids due on Thursday, March 18. We currently anticipate construction starting full-time in May. From a big-picture perspective, you can expect to see work in the following areas at the approximate times (Note: These are still subject to change prior to contracting with the low bidder):
2021 Summer – Work will be focused on the east side of the parcel (behind the existing building), including construction of the new bus loop and expanded playground area. Construction will likely start on the new classroom addition to the south. Interior renovations to the school admin and library area.
2021-22 School Year – Work will continue on the new classroom addition to the south and the new kitchen addition to the north. Some targeted interior renovations when the school schedule allows. No changes to car/bus traffic circulation for this school year.
2022 Summer – Work will be focused on the west side of the parcel, including construction of the new front parking lot. Completion of the new classroom and kitchen additions. Interior HVAC renovations to existing classrooms and converting the existing kitchen to an expanded dining area.
To provide you with a brief update on the plans relative to the items that many of you have asked about in the past:
The project team removed the new classroom addition from the stream buffer in its entirety, but was unable to avoid eliminating the need for temporary access into the 50’ landward side of the buffer during construction. As we had previously indicated, the County stream buffer ordinance does authorize temporary access for construction purposes. In its final form, the project is making stormwater management enhancements that will improve the water quality compared to the site’s existing conditions.
I know that many of you asked about exterior lighting:
In the short term, some of you may have noticed that we were able to adjust the one exterior light outside the existing gym door that you had mentioned was a problem. That light has been adjusted to point down as far as the light fixture allows.
All spaces in the new addition will have motion sensors so that lights are turned off when they do not detect motion.
We are required by the building code to have egress lighting at all exits. There are 2 exits on the new addition – one on the western end of the addition and one on the eastern end.
The project has complied with the County’s lighting ordinances and review of those lighting requirements was part of the site plan review process.
There will be an expanded playground behind the school at the conclusion of the first summer. Hopefully your children and grandchildren will enjoy this expanded feature!
I think those were the major issues that we had heard about previously, but if I missed something specific that you’d like an update on, please do not hesitate to reach out. Moving forward, I will do my best to provide you with quarterly updates of our progress through the construction phase, and I will certainly communicate any special concerns ahead of time.
Geothermal Test Well Drilling Next Week
I wanted to also notify you all about some work that we will be doing next week. This project will be installing a new geothermal ground HVAC system to heat and cool the new additions, as well as large portions of the existing building. It will be the first geothermal HVAC system in a County facility!
If you are unfamiliar with these systems, there are lots of resources on the internet that explain the technology. However, the short version is that they utilize the earth’s temperature for heat exchanges (i.e. heating and cooling) since the earth’s inner temperature is always constant. A heat pump cycles water through long loops of underground pipes that then transfer heat from ambient air in the building to the ground and vice versa. Here is a great resource from the EPA’s website should you wish to learn more about these systems: https://www.epa.gov/rhc/geothermal-heating-and-cooling-technologies#Ground-Source-Heat-Pumps
The expected payback time for the system at Crozet ES is approximately 7-8 years. This represents a conservative estimate based on the data available to us at this time. Once the system is up and running, it is possible that we will see the payback period on this system reduced. You can see the long-term projected savings of this system compared to other more traditional systems that the design team considered here (the geothermal system is represented by the green line):
The County is excited about this system, as it is a big step forward in achieving the County’s Climate Action Plan. Let me know if you have any other questions about the system!
In order to better inform the contractors bidding on the project and to also adjust the design details if needed, we will be drilling two test wells next week starting on Monday and concluding on Wednesday. The wells will be 550’ deep. These wells are no different from a water well – the water from them is simply used for a purpose other than drinking water. As I am sure you are aware, drilling wells can sometimes be a noisy operation so we will stick to the following schedule for next week:
There was a big land use meeting the other day. Here’s the blog post with the agenda, and below are the attachments sent out after the meeting. These land use decisions affect everything. Housing, schools, roads, trails, jobs, parks, and virtually everything else.
Note that the County are having Office Hours on 2 October. Read on for details.
These quick thoughts are part of an email that I sent to someone asking for my thoughts after the meeting. I wasn’t going to write a story until I was asked, so here it is.
(bolding is mine; this is part of the email from the County Staff as a followup
Thank you for attending yesterday afternoon’s Crozet Community Advisory Committee meeting. This was by far the highest-Zoom meeting we have had since we were forced to move engagement to a virtual format, with the turnout surpassing some of our public input opportunities that were open for over three weeks at a time. If you were unable to attend, please take some time to provide input through our questionnaire at https://publicinput.com/O2561.
I’ve had a number of requests for the video from the meeting as well as the Q&A list, chat, and presentation and wanted to provide those here. The meeting video can be viewed here: https://youtu.be/gCUKw8b4Mb0.
The Q&A list, chat log, and presentation slides are attached. We also wanted to create some additional opportunities for community members to chat directly with staff to provide feedback and ask questions about the Master Plan. Next Friday, October 2 from 11AM-1PM we will be hosting (virtual) office hours. Please consider joining us to learn more about the draft future land use plan, ask questions, and share your feedback! You do not have to attend for the entire time and can join whenever is convenient for you. You can pre-register/access the meeting here:
Although construction funding is not certain for a long-awaited expansion of Crozet Elementary, the school division is moving forward on designing the $20.4 million project.
Ken Thacker, with VMDO Architects, walked the Albemarle County School Board through preliminary schematic designs Thursday during the board’s monthly work session. The plans include a three-story addition, new bus loop, improved play areas and an expanded gym and cafeteria.
The 28,000-square-foot Crozet expansion was identified as the division’s top capacity-related construction project by an advisory committee last year in order to ease overcrowding in the western feeder pattern. Nearby Brownsville Elementary has nearly 900 students while the building’s capacity is 764. At Crozet, enrollment is up to 360 students, 30 more than the building’s capacity.
Dear Members of our Western Albemarle High School Staff and Community:
Earlier this evening, our School Board approved the appointment of Jason Lee as your new principal, effective July 1. Mr. Lee succeeds Dr. Patrick McLaughlin, who will be returning to his role as the division’s Chief of Strategic Planning, also on July 1.
Thanks, Joe, for taking the time to write the following. For some quick background, here’s the last CCAC meeting. I highly encourage, ask, implore all to read this to understanding how funding our schools works – costs, timelines, voices. It’s a lot to digest, and hopefully you can read it before next important CIP meeting on 22 October.
By Joe Fore
On Tuesday, October 15, the Albemarle Capital Improvement Plan (CIP) Advisory Committee held its first meeting to discuss which capital projects—long-term infrastructure investments, like buildings, roads, and new equipment—the Board of Supervisors should fund over the next five years.
I attended the meeting because I was interested in one project in particular: the expansion of Crozet Elementary. Both the School Board and Board of Supervisors have prioritized the project a way to alleviate the severe overcrowding at Brownsville and Crozet Elementary. The Crozet Community Advisory Committee (on which I serve) also recently adopted a resolution urging officials to fund the project. I was eager to see whether the Crozet Elementary expansion would continue to get the same level of support it’s received so far. I was also hoping that there would be an opportunity for public comment so that I could share the CCAC’s resolution.
But before I give my thoughts on the meeting, it’s important to give just a bit of background on the CIP process and how we got here. (Those interested in a TL;DR version of the meeting can check out my Twitter thread summarizing the meeting in a shorter format.)
The CIP Process and the Advisory Committee’s Role
Tuesday’s meeting was just one part of a much larger budgeting process to decide which of the County’s capital projects get funded over the next 5 years (FY21-25). Here’s a flowchart/timeline of the full process:
The CIP Advisory Committee is represented by that green box in the middle. As you can see, there’s a lot that preceded this meeting and a lot that’s yet to happen after the Advisory Committee finishes its work. But the Advisory Committee is a crucial gatekeeper in the process because the committee will recommend the final slate of projects that will then go to the Board of Supervisors for approval.
Again, though, the Advisory Committee’s work comes in the middle of the process; it’s not just dreaming up projects and funding amounts out of thin air. The Advisory Committee relies on inputs from the Board of Supervisors and the School Board. More specifically, the Advisory Committee has two key constraints that it’s working with: (1) the total amount of money available, and (2) the list of possible projects that the Advisory Committee can choose from.
The Money: $55 million for FY21-25
The first key constraint, of course, is money. After all, if there were an unlimited amount of money, there’d be no need to pick and choose among various projects; they’d all get funded. But that’s not the case. And where does the money come from? In Albemarle County, around 2/3 of the County’s revenues come from property taxes. So if the County wants to spend more to invest in infrastructure projects, it has to raise property taxes—specifically, real estate taxes.
As I learned at Tuesday’s meeting, though, the actual amount that the Advisory Committee can use to build its list of recommended projects is only $55 million—not the full $61 million. Why? Because the Advisory Committee is only looking at projects for 2021-2025, not through 2027, as the Board of Supervisor’s funding scenarios show. As a result, the Advisory Committee can only recommend a slate of projects that totals $55 million or less.
The List of Potential Projects
Because there’s a limited amount of money available, the CIP Advisory Committee must select certain projects to recommend for funding. Where did the list of possible projects come from? Over the past year or so, the Board of Supervisors and the School Board each independently created its own list of capital improvement projects that those groups wanted to see funded.
The School Board’s list was generated by the School Board’s Long-Range Planning Advisory Committee, which spent 18 months analyzing the County’s long-term school needs and issued a final report in July 2019. That report recommended an ambitious slate of 10 CIP projects—totaling more than $100 million—for the School Board to present to the Board of Supervisors for funding. The report singled out the tremendous growth and overcrowding at Brownsville and Crozet Elementary and recommended a $20.4 million expansion for Crozet Elementary as a way to alleviate the overcrowding at both schools. Although other projects relating to safety, technology, and accessibility were ranked higher overall, the Crozet Elementary expansion project was the School Board’s #1 capacity-related project. (In terms of Crozet-area projects, renovations at Western Albemarle were also recommended—though they were given lower priority.)
Then, last month, the School Board and Board of Supervisors held a joint meeting, to discuss the priorities that each group had developed and to create a combined list of priorities. During that meeting, the members of each board arranged themselves into three smaller working “teams.” Each of these teams created a ranked list of ten projects that included projects from both the School Board and Board of Supervisors list. County staff then arranged the projects based on which had received the highest rankings from the three teams.
When the results were tallied, four projects received consistent, high rankings from all three teams:
Economic development funds for public-private partnerships
Cale Elementary expansion project
Crozet Elementary expansion
Below this “Top 4” were an assortment of other projects—including school technology, environmentally-conscious initiatives, water-related projects, and other school renovations—that received widely varying levels of support.
The CIP Advisory Committee’s job, therefore, is to take this list of projects and—within that $55 million funding cap set by the Board of Supervisors—present a list of recommended projects to the Board for discussion and approval.
The Advisory Committee’s First Meeting
That brings us to Tuesday’s meeting of the CIP Advisory Committee. Here are my impressions of the meeting and how things look moving forward—particularly for the Crozet Elementary project. The bottom line is that the Crozet Elementary expansion is certainly being recognized as a critical project. But its relatively large cost compared to the available funds make it a potential target to be reduced in scope. And, more generally, I think the meeting revealed important, broader points about the County’s overall level of capital funding (it’s not enough) and the timeline for public participation in the process (it started way before this meeting).
1. This meeting was planning and overview; next meeting (October 22) is the crucial one. I’ll be honest: even for a budgeting meeting, Tuesday’s meeting was a bit boring. Informative, but boring. No real decisions got made. Instead, the meeting was largely about (a) reviewing the budgeting process, (b) explaining the Advisory Committee’s role, and (c) devising a plan for the group’s subsequent meetings. The discussion generally avoided mentioning specific projects, although there were comments that provided some insight into members’ thinking (as I’ll explain in #2). The next meeting—Tuesday, October 22, 2-4 pm, County Office Building—is where the rubber will meet the road.
2. The Crozet Elementary expansion is being taken seriously, but it may be in danger of being reduced in scale. Here’s the good news: the Crozet Elementary expansion is nestled safely among the Top 4 projects that were clearly set apart as the highest priorities by the Board of Supervisors and School Board. And, at Tuesday’s meeting, it seemed like members of the Advisory Committee generally agreed that their recommendations should reflect the rankings that were generated by the two Boards at their joint meeting.
Now, if they really wanted to remain faithful to the School Board/Board of Supervisor rankings, the Advisory Committee members could just start at the top of the list and work their way down—funding projects until they hit the $55 million cap. Well, guess what you get if you add up the cost of the Top 4 projects? $54.9 million. So the Advisory Committee could make its next meeting a short one by signing off on those four projects and calling it a day. But it may not be that easy.
Two of the “Top 4” projects—Transportation leveraging & Crozet Elementary—would take up $45.4 million out of a possible $55 million. And during the meeting, some members asked about whether the larger projects were “scalable.” I interpreted that as, essentially, asking whether the Crozet Elementary project could be adjusted in scope—funding the project, but at a reduced level—as a way of freeing up some money for some of the smaller (and lower-ranked) projects. I don’t know how “scalable” the Crozet Elementary project is, but if it is, I suspect some committee members may be interested in recommending that.
(It’s also possible that the Advisory Committee could reduce the amount earmarked for transportation leveraging, since that’s actually the largest single project—$25 million out of $55 million. But because funds allocated for that get matched by the state, it seems they would be somewhat less eager to take from that pot.)
3. The County needs more money for capital projects—which, realistically, means a higher real estate tax rate. For me, one of the clearest takeaways from this process is: there’s simply not enough money for the important capital projects that the County needs. And the tax-rate increases that the Board of Supervisors is willing to support just aren’t going to get us there anytime soon.
The prioritized list of projects created by the Board of Supervisors and School Board totaled $121 million—roughly twice the amount the Board of Supervisors was willing to raise to cover capital projects over the next seven years ($61 million). And that list is only a partial list of the broader range of capital projects that the School Board and Board of Supervisors want to fund. For example, remember that the School Board’s full list of suggested capital projects—just for the School Board—was over $100 million. I suppose it’s possible that some of these projects are just plain-old wastes of money. But looking at the list that the Advisory Committee is working off of, I don’t see a lot of vanity projects; I see basic infrastructure—roads, schools, drainage and water quality, waste-management facilities, greenways—that is necessary to support a clean, vibrant, and growing community.
Realistically, it seems the only way to generate the money to fund these projects is to increase real estate property taxes. Look, no one likes to pay more taxes. But, as Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr. said, “Taxes are what we pay for civilized society.”
And here’s the thing: it wouldn’t cost that much more to take care of our needs—or, at least, more of our needs. For example, if the Board of Supervisors had chosen the highest funding scenario, “Level 3,” it would have generated over $100 million for capital funding over the next seven years, rather than the $61 million currently available. That would be enough to take care of almost all the projects on the prioritized list (except the high school renovations). How much would that have cost homeowners? An extra 5.5-7 cents in tax rate. For someone with a $300,000 home, that’s an increase of around $180 a year. $15 a month. 50 cents a day.
Ultimately, when it comes to infrastructure, you get what you pay for—in the form of taxes. And right now, Albemarle County residents aren’t getting as much as we need.
4. It’s probably too late for the public to have much meaningful impact on this round of CIP priorities. One frustrating thing happened at the very beginning of the meeting: the audience was told that there would be no opportunity for public input. This was particularly irksome, since I was specifically there to share a resolution passed by the Crozet Community Advisory Committee expressing our support for the Crozet Elementary expansion and urging the County to fully fund the project. Our White Hall supervisor, Ann Mallek, helpfully pointed out that members of the public could provide written input, and I did take the opportunity to present the CCAC’s resolution supporting the Crozet Elementary project to the staff in attendance.
I’m a huge believer in public participation in local government. And I certainly don’t want to discourage people from attending meetings and making their voices heard. But, at this point, final CIP priority list has largely already been set by (a) the amount of CIP money available, as set by the Board of Supervisors and (b) the priority list decided upon by the Board of Supervisors and the School Board at September’s joint meeting. Each of those things was decided at least a month before Tuesday’s meeting, and those decisions were based on input and discussions that took place even earlier.
Now, to be sure, if the Advisory Committee goes off the rails and jettisons the Crozet Elementary project altogether or slashes its funding drastically, then the community should certainly object loudly and often to the Board of Supervisors. But it seems unlikely that the Board of Supervisors will be willing to do much tinkering with the nuts and bolts of the CIP recommendation—not after the Advisory Committee’s coordinated with County staff to do the hard work of considering all of the various scenarios and making a final recommendation.
So just like with the funding point, there’s a larger takeaway here: The time to advocate for capital projects is EARLY. For example, let’s say, hypothetically, that you wanted to push for a new elementary school in the Crozet area, rather than expanding Crozet. When should you have done that? Not at Tuesday’s meeting. Too late. Not at last month’s Board of Supervisors/School Board meeting. Too late. You’d have had to probably start advocating for that before the School Board’s Long-Range Planning Advisory Committee sometime in 2018 (18 months ago), when that committee started its own planning process that then filtered up to the School Board and then to the joint Board of Supervisors/School Board meeting. But at this point—when the Advisory Committee is sitting down to do its work—we’re simply too late in the process to have a meaningful impact on the capital projects that will get funded for the next few years.
So if there are capital projects that the Crozet community really wants to see done (like Eastern Avenue, Western Park, the Crozet Park recreational facility, or an entirely new elementary school) it’s critical to really start pushing for those projects with the School Board and the Board of Supervisors now—not because they’ll be funded this go-round, but, rather, in the hopes that they will percolate up to future CIP funding cycles years from now. As the old proverb says: “The best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago. The second-best time is now.”
Final thoughts from Jim
The timelines for this stuff are infuriating, but a key takeaway is that our government demands patience, persistence, and being present, at damn near every opportunity. Those who show up and advocate for the things are the ones who get the things. As was suggested somewhat offhand at the last CCAC meeting, maybe we need a Crozet lobbyist, to simply go to all of these meetings and push for more funding for our schools. I genuinely don’t know the answers, but I know that without proper funding for our schools, with a plan that looks beyond 5 years- and plans to fund the things that we – our community, our kids, our society – need, we are in a world of trouble.
Claudius Crozet Park is a 22 acre community non-profit recreational facility open to all. It is managed by Claudius Crozet Park, Inc., a non-profit organization managed by volunteers. Currently, the Park’s Board is in the planning phases of an expanded and updated facility to meet the needs of the growing community. The park is soliciting private donations but they will also be requesting partial funding from the Board of Supervisors later this month.
The new Crozet Park Aquatics and Fitness Center will feature a gymnasium, indoor walking track, fitness areas and community rooms. A key component of the facility is space for after-school and summer programming. Currently, the YMCA leases the existing building and offers programming to only 27 students as it is limited by available space. The new facility will offer space for a program that could serve as many as 300 students.
Affordable, quality after-school care is in great demand throughout the county including the Western Feeder Pattern. There are currently 123 students on the wait lists for the Extended Day Enrichment Program (EDEP) at the four western feeder pattern elementary schools. That figure does not include families who do not apply because they cannot afford the program. As documented in the 2017 program evaluation of EDEP and subsequent Board conversations since, increased access to after-school care opportunities is needed.
The Park Board is seeking a letter of support demonstrating the need for increased after school opportunities before it goes before the Board of Supervisors on August 21st.
At some point, Albemarle County will be redistricting schools, because the population is growing. Please take time to read this whole thing, courtesy of Amanda Alger. If you have comments or questions, please comment below, or email Amanda. Bolding throughout is mine.
If you don’t have kids, please get involved, as school quality and perceived school qualityaffects property values. If you do have kids, get aware and involved. Even if your kids are little now, they’re going to grow up. I’m happy to talk our schools’ perceived quality about property values offline.
If you’d like to provide any comments or feedback on this draft report, please do so by July 1 at 8 am. The report will be presented to the School Board at their meeting on July 11th at 6:30, which is open to the public for comment.
The Long Range Planning Advisory Committee (LRPAC) is tasked with putting together a yearly report for the Superintendent and School Board to assist in the development of long term facilities plans. They meet monthly and Central Office staff puts together this report with input from representatives appointed by each School Board member and the Superintendent.
This year’s $180 million Capital Improvement Program (CIP) recommendation addresses four areas: Maintenance and Replacement, Capacity and Growth, Safety and Security and Renovation of Existing Facilities.
Of particular interest to the White Hall District:
From June 26 Draft Report: “The top ranked capacity related project is an addition to Crozet Elementary School combined with redistricting Brownsville Elementary School students. Robust growth in the Crozet area has been on the radar for some time and the time for additional capacity has come.
Brownsville and Crozet are currently over capacity and enrollment is anticipated to continue growing. Brownsville will utilize 8 mobile classrooms next year. At a capacity of 330, the Crozet site has room for expansion. A design for an addition and improvements is currently funded in the CIP with the assumption of redistricting students from the current Brownsville district to Crozet Elementary when the project is complete. With a forecasted 96% population growth over the next 30 years, expanding Crozet up to its maximum is a near-term recommendation, but a new western elementary school will also likely prove necessary longer term. An expansion of an existing school is recommended prior to the construction of a new school for several reasons including timing, cost, less redistricting, equitable size amongst schools, and staffing benefits. These reasons are elaborated on in the justification section of the Crozet Addition project page of this report.
Crozet, Virginia, May 28, 2019 – After advancing a record 10 boats from the Virginia State Championship to the Scholastic National Regatta, the Western Albemarle High School Crew Team rowed their way to six national titles. The Western Albemarle High School team of 55 members was one of 156 clubs from across the nation to qualify and compete in the regatta held May 24-25 in Dillion Lake, Ohio.
The second fastest boats in the nation were awarded silver medals, earned by the Women’s Senior Quad (Caroline Allison, Heather Deacon, Tori Sanborn, Clare O’Connell), the Women’s Lightweight Quad (Casey Callinan, Madison Reisch, Noa Kipnis, Adelaide Bragaw) and the Men’s Junior Quad (Lucas Farmer, Andrew Sime). Bronze medals were earned by the the Women’s LIghtweight Double (Madelyn Abrahamson, Eva Massarelli), the Men’s Senior Double (Val Burguener, Cove Haydock) and the Men’s Freshman Quad (William Donovan, Jeremy Burke, Tate Kessler, Tilden English.)
Additionally the team had four other boats which finished in the top ten: the Women’s Junior Quad (Lily Argenbright, Kate Landis, Mary Robertson, Mia Henderson, the Women’s Junior Double (Ellie Ward, Claire Helgerson), and the Men’s Senior Quad (Cooper Devito,Will Plummer, Tee Dickinson, CK Keller), and the Women’s Freshman Quad (Ravenna Barber, Emma Sexton, Haley Lenox, Meghan Byrne). The Women’s Junior Single (Sloan Strong) also placed in the top ten. Strong attends Staunton High School which does not have a team, so she trains with the WAHS team and was entered as the only Staunton HS rower.
Head Coach, Craig Redinger says “The importance of this success cannot be underestimated. To be able to compete, place among the top two boats in each event against the best competition from across the nation takes an enormous commitment of time, training, character and dedication that is nothing short of remarkable. Our athletes and coaching staff embody those values on and off the water and generates an atmosphere in which our rowers excel. This past weekend we got to prove that to the nation by leaving as the most medaled sculling teams at the event”
The team will now take a break before resuming their fall season in August. If you are interested in learning more about the sport of rowing the team will host its learn to row program July 15-26. Please visit our website, wahscrew.org, for details on our summer programs and for those interested in joining the team.
On February 28, I communicated with you about the enforcement of our student conduct policy and dress code practices to better meet our responsibility to provide an educational environment in our schools in which all students can fulfill their highest potential.
Our policy states that any clothing that interferes with or disrupts our educational environment is unacceptable. This requirement has always been present in our policy; it is not new.
Effective tomorrow, Tuesday, March 12, the wearing of clothing with imagery associated with organizations that promote white supremacy, racial division, hatred, or violence will not be permitted in our schools.