Supervisors to hold hearing on CMS SA finding

Those who support or oppose the School Board’s plan to use the Chester Middle School building to house Thomas Dale High School’s freshmen next year can make their feelings known to the Board of Supervisors next week.

The supervisors will hold a public hearing on Wednesday, June 23, on the Planning Commission’s May finding that the conversion of Chester Middle to a ninth-grade academy is in compliance with the county’s comprehensive plan.

“I think the substantial accord process is necessary, and I do think it is only fair to have a public hearing on it,” Bermuda District Supervisor Dorothy Jaeckle said Monday.

The substantial accord procedure “promotes coordinated planning in the siting of public facilities and maintains compatible land use patterns,” according to the policy. Planning Director Kirk Turner filed the application for substantial accord because he felt the finding was necessary for the school’s new use, he said. School officials have said the School Board did not need to seek substantial accord for the change.

On May 18, the Planning Commission voted 3-2, with Matoaca District Commissioner F. Wayne Bass and Midlothian District Commissioner Reuben J. Waller Jr. in dissent, to find that using Chester Middle as a ninth-grade academy next year is substantially in accord with the county’s comprehensive plan.

At the supervisors May 26 meeting, the board voted to hold a public hearing on the report in June.

School officials have said moving Thomas Dale High School’s freshmen to the Chester Middle building will help alleviate overcrowding at the high school.

Members of Citizens United for Responsible Government have said the move will worsen area traffic and damage the integrity of the community. The group also questions the necessity of the move, citing conflicting calculations of Thomas Dale’s capacity. In a recent interview, CURG member Jim Copp said the group had, using a capacity formula and map of Thomas Dale High provided by the state’s Department of Education, calculated the high school’s functional capacity to be 2,170 students.

The school system lists Thomas Dale High’s functional capacity at 1,840 students, and its enrollment, as of Sept. 30, 2009, as 2,396 students. In a statement e-mailed Monday afternoon, county school Spokesman Shawn Smith said: “Functional capacity is defined as building capacity minus capacity for itinerant programs, such as English for speakers of other languages, special education, Head Start and Title 1. In addition, art, music, physical education, reading, lab rooms, trailers and early childhood education are not counted when determining functional capacity.”

On Monday, Jaeckle said she thinks one of the key aspects of the issue is that the words “middle” and “high” are “really used interchangeably throughout the plan.” She also noted that students in the Elizabeth Davis Middle School district are already traveling similar distances to attend high school at Thomas Dale.

“A lot of the other things that citizens are bringing up are really all operational decisions by the School Board,” she said. “I’m looking forward to hearing the people speak on it,” she said, and she planned to meet with several Planning Commissioners before the June 23 meeting.

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