Holland school site suggested

Published 9:58 am Friday, February 17, 2012

By Tracy Agnew/Suffolk News-Herald

SUFFOLK—Suffolk Public Schools has filed a conditional use permit request to build a new elementary school to serve students in Holland and Whaleyville.

The property under consideration is at 100 Pioneer Road, near its intersection with U.S. Route 58. It is roughly two miles east of the center of the village of Holland.

The conditional use permit request will be discussed during Tuesday’s Planning Commission meeting.

School Board Chairman Michael Debranski said the site has been on the board’s radar for several years and has risen to the top as other possible sites have become unavailable.

“It was one of the two highest rated sites by our engineers,” he said. “As the board reconsidered its options, this became a unanimous choice.”

The process of finding a location to build a new school to replace two aging schools has dragged on for more than a decade.

In April 2010, City Council shot down a proposed site at 1553 Copeland Road, because it did not fit into the city’s comprehensive plan, which guides against placing schools in rural areas.

In August 2010, the City Council voted to recommend a location near the ball fields and the site of the old Holland High School in Holland. But the very next night, the School Board turned that site down. Later that fall, the School Board voted to wait at least a year before making any decisions on a site.

The school would replace the aging Southwestern Elementary School, as well as Robertson Elementary School, which closed last year.

Debranski acknowledged the site is not centrally located between the two areas it would serve but said he hoped people in Holland and Whaleyville would be pleased that a site has been chosen.

“It’s just a gorgeous site,” he said. “It fits all our needs.”

The parcel is owned by Marion and Lydia Harrell. She said the farm has been in the family for more than 60 years. They have raised corn, peanuts and cotton on the farmland.

She did not want to answer further questions on the record.

Deran Whitney, superintendent of Suffolk Public Schools, would not answer questions about the site on Thursday.

“At this point we have not publicly identified the site,” he wrote in an email Thursday. “Therefore it would not be appropriate to respond to questions.”

The site could run into the same roadblock that the Copeland Road site did two years ago. It also is not in a growth area recognized by the comprehensive plan, but Debranski said it is close enough to the Holland village that he hopes it will be approved.

He added that the School Board would negotiate with the owners after approval is received.

The 700-pupil school is scheduled to open in September 2014. Its cost is estimated at $17.5 million.

Of that, $7.5 million will be funded with Qualified School Construction Bonds, which are no-interest bonds issued by the Virginia Public School Authority.

City Council earlier this month approved a Capital Improvements Plan that would allocate the remaining $10 million in the coming fiscal year.

That plan also calls for city water service to be extended to the village of Holland. The projects in the first year of the Capital Improvements Plan are contingent upon being approved in the city budget process.

Debranski said he hopes the school can use a temporary septic system until city sewer also is extended to the village.

A public hearing on the site will be held during the Planning Commission meeting at 2 p.m. Tuesday at 441 Market St.