City mulls new middle school site

On January 4, about 20 local parents sat in Greenbrier Elementary and peppered Charlottesville Superintendent Rosa Atkins with questions about the school division’s middle school revamp. With the consolidation of Walker Upper Elementary and Buford Middle formally approved, city officials must now decide where to house a new sixth- through eighth-grade school, and how to repurpose the building that is not chosen. Early plans call for a preschool center and an adult learning center to eventually fill the vacant space.

A renovated Buford Middle School (rendering above) would cost $2.7 million more than an updated Walker Upper Elementary, according to VMDO Architects.

Local parent Grant Brownrigg perused a packet of costs and dates and posed a question to Atkins that seemed to encapsulate the gathered parents’ sentiments: “One problem for me is understanding what’s important and what’s not from all this data. Does one location have a clear advantage over the other?”

When it comes to size, Walker and Buford are “almost the exact same school,” according to Jim Henderson, assistant superintendent for administration services. The schools’ gyms, auditoriums and athletic fields can hold about the same number of students. The debate seems to boil down to three distinguishing factors: convenience, cost and access.

If school officials opt to renovate Buford to accommodate another grade level, the estimated price tag would total $20.9 million, according to VMDO Architects. A Walker revamp would cost about $2.7 million less.

As for access, the two-minute walk from Buford to the newly refurbished Smith Aquatics and Fitness Center and the Boys & Girls Club makes the Cherry Avenue school a “very attractive” location, said Atkins. The expanded club—which includes the $10 million, 24,000-square-foot LeRoi Moore Teen Center—offers study lounges, technology stations and a fine arts studio. About 350 of the club’s 500 members are students at Buford or Walker, according to James Pierce, Executive Director of the Boys & Girls Clubs of Central Virginia.

“Those are the ages that seek out after-school activities the most,” Pierce said. During the last two months, Buford teachers have used the club’s space for CPR and physical education classes during the school day.

“We thought the amount of community resources put into this site gave the edge to the Buford location,” Pierce said. “We do provide daytime opportunities to expand its operating capacity.”

Atkins was mindful of families who live near Walker and would relish the convenience of a middle school in their neighborhood. She insisted that a location has not yet been chosen and that school officials will pay careful attention to parental feedback and survey results. (Reconfiguration surveys can be found at

“If it’s not something the community wants, it will not create the healthiest learning environment for our students,” she said. “I don’t want our community split.”

Atkins and her staff will host a Town Hall Teleforum on January 24. The School Board will start discussing the move at its February 3 meeting.

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