Education Beat: Officials debate future of Yancey Elementary

Senator Mark Warner spoke via videoconference to a CHS class about global citizenship last week. Photo: Dan Hennicke Senator Mark Warner spoke via videoconference to a CHS class about global citizenship last week. Photo: Dan Hennicke

Our Education Beat coverage is the result of a partnership with Charlottesville Tomorrow.

A year after elected officials charged a citizen work group to find additional uses for the chronically under-enrolled Yancey Elementary School, the group has proposed transforming the Esmont school into an “intergenerational learning center.”

On Thursday, the Yancey Workgroup recommended that the school building play home to a host of public-private partnerships to deliver increased services to southern Albemarle. The plan suggests growing programming to serve multiple age groups and adding two county staff positions, and requests a funding commitment from the Board of Supervisors to be used in order to leverage additional money.

Over the last 10 years, Yancey’s enrollment has remained steadily below 200. According to the Virginia Department of Education, Yancey is serving 163 students this year, including 19 preschool students, which is up from 131 students last year. Albemarle’s largest elementary school is Brownsville, which is serving 680 students this year.

Albemarle completed a $625,000 heating, ventilation, and air conditioning upgrade on the building this summer, and next year Albemarle has plans for a $412,000 roof renovation, county schools spokesman Phil Giaramita said. It is also in the process of purchasing seven acres of land on either side of the school to upgrade the septic system. The septic work will be completed by October 2014, Giaramita said.

Since April, the workgroup has collected nearly 200 surveys from the public on the future use of the building. Respondents identified child care and programming for school children and seniors, as well as workforce training, technology access, and health care facilities as community needs. Over 80 percent of respondents said the community needs workforce skills and youth programming, and about 60 percent identified health care as a need, the report shows.

The workgroup first presented the idea of growing Yancey into a community center to the Board of Supervisors in August, at which time it was urged to identify potential sources of private funding. Thursday’s plan presented a list of 16 potential sources. Workgroup coordinator Charlotte Brody emphasized the need for the public and private sectors to work together, and suggested creating a “dynamic fundraising committee that finds other sources of funds.”

School Board Chair Steve Koleszar complimented the workgroup’s presentation last week. “They’re not waiting to design a perfect project,” Koleszar said. “They’re going ahead with some things that they can do now, using the existing space more, and creating more interaction between the community and the school.”

Giaramita said that the upcoming budget year will be tough for the schools, but that the intergenerational center could pay serious dividends to southern Albemarle. “It’s an attempt to look at a multi-generational concept and use that as a catalyst to improve the quality of life in an underserved community,” Giaramita added.

Albemarle County Supervisor Dennis Rooker agreed. “This is an area of the county that needs some additional services, and I think it is important to find a way to get those services off the ground,” he said. Rooker said that the project would get “looked at more seriously” in the budgeting process because it would be largely grant-funded.

But his county board colleague Ken Boyd said the plan would create “hundreds of thousands of dollars in expenses, and maybe millions if we’re talking about expanding the school,” and noted that the capital budget currently includes no money for the project. More local government investments could result in an additional tax burden on citizens, Boyd said.

Diantha McKeel, an Albemarle County school board member and supervisor-elect of Rooker’s Jouett district, thinks the plan needs more discussion. She suggested county and school officials hold a retreat to discuss the captial improvement and priorities. “We have a growing county, an urbanizing county, and I think that would be beneficial,” McKeel said.—Tim Shea

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