I am often asked about the school division's plans to accommodate new development. Crozet's growth has been a case in point. As the White Hall district continues to lead the way in construction of new single family detached housing, people ask me--When we are going to build a new elementary school in Crozet to address overcrowded schools? When are we going to add on to Western Albemarle HS? What are we going to do when Henley (already expanded to 900 student capacity) fills up? Who is going to pay for all these buildings?
Short answers: We are expanding Brownsville elementary starting this year (the Charlottesville firm VMDO has been selected as the architect). We have approved a redistricting to alleviate some overcrowding at Crozet. Additions to high school capacity and additional elementary schools are in the long range capital plans. When Henley fills up, we will have to redistrict students out of the Western feeder pattern. We are ALL going to pay for the infrastructure through our property taxes.
When Old Trail Village was approved in Crozet, the school division calculated an estimate of the number of children that would attend Crozet schools--A total of 476 students from this one development's 2,200 homes. A similar calculation has now been done for the Biscuit Run development. At 3,100 homes, Biscuit Run is the largest development ever to come before decision makers in Albemarle County. When fully developed over the next 15-20 years, Biscuit Run is expected to have 738 students attending County schools in the area around Monticello HS and Cale Elementary. Unlike Old Trail, Biscuit Run's developers have proffered the site for a new neighborhood elementary school. A similar proffer was made in the North Pointe development on Route 29 North. While we will have the land for two new schools, the community still has to pay to build the infrastructure. That comes out of the County's capital budget.
In a recent memo from the school division to Assistant County Executive Tom Foley, school staff put a price tag on the 738 new pupil seats of $19 million. That represents the one-time capital costs to build adequate school capacity to accommodate future families living in Biscuit Run. That is in 2007 dollars. The developers are not proffering any contribution to support those capital expenses. In fact, the Biscuit Run developers predict Albemarle County is going to be closing schools as our community attracts more retirees. They foresee a graying population and declining enrollments.
The Albemarle County Planning Commission has already weighed in and indicated they will not request funding from the developer for middle and high school capital needs. I also don't expect the developers to hand us a check for $19 million to build new schools. However, per household cash proffers have been used in the past to mitigate school capital costs. For example, every home in Glenmore contributes $1,000 in a one-time proffer towards school capital projects. That was from an agreement negotiated in 2000 and funds have been used for projects at Stone-Robinson Elementary and Monticello HS. Recent cash proffers for new developments have been negotiated at about $3,200 per home. However, after getting a report from the County's Fiscal Impact Advisory Committee, the Board of Supervisors determined earlier this month that cash proffers for a single family home should realistically be about $17,500 to accommodate just the immediate capital projects for roads, schools, and fire/rescue projects ALREADY in the capital budget. That $17,500 figure doesn't include water, sewer, or longer term capital needs (e.g. what if the new school or road or bridge isn't already on the ledger to be built in the next 10 years?).
As I said, there are no per-household cash proffers being proposed for the Biscuit Run development to address school needs. The developer's proffers are currently valued by the County at $30.9 million and are focused on other priorities like transportation, parks, and affordable housing. We certainly need those things too.
The School Board was told last Thursday that the developers were not very happy to have a price tag of $19 million for schools put on the Biscuit Run development. Maybe we haven't made those estimates in advance before, but the data speaks for itself. I think we are getting smarter about recognizing and planning for these costs and the public should be aware that our decision makers have this information in front of them. Now it is available to you too.
The Albemarle County Planning Commission holds a public hearing on Biscuit Run Tuesday evening, May 29th, starting at 6:00 PM.