New John Kerr won’t be moving far

Posted: October 29, 2013

The Winchester Star

Shown is the site location plan for the new John Kerr Elementary School. School Board member Richard Bell made the motion at Monday’s meeting to have Shockey P3 LLC, of Winchester, build a new facility just west of the existing one at 536 Jefferson St. The measure passed by a 4-3 vote. (Photo by VMDO Architects)

WINCHESTER — The City School Board Monday night voted to build a new John Kerr Elementary School on its current 15-acre site on Jefferson Street.

The 4-3 vote took place at a Winchester School Board meeting at the division’s Central Administrative Office at 12 N. Washington St.

John Kerr’s fate has been debated at length during the past two years. The 40-year-old building is in need of a new roof, heating and ventilation system, doors, windows, an electrical system and a fire pump.

The new school will be built in accordance with the Public-Private Education Facilities and Infrastructure Act of 2002 (PPEA), which is a design-build process that allows the board to contract with one entity for design and construction services, instead of two.

The choice came down to the current site and 9.3 acres behind Sacred Heart of Jesus Catholic Church, east of Merrimans Lane and adjacent to a proposed extension of Meadow Branch Avenue that would connect with Amherst Street. C&S Design Development LLC, of Berryville, had proposed building on that site.

School Board member Richard Bell made the motion at Monday’s meeting to have Shockey P3 LLC, of Winchester, build the new school just west of the current facility at 536 Jefferson St.

Cynthia Ford seconded the motion. Chairman John Bishop and member Mary Margaret Wise voted in favor of the motion.

Vice-Chairwoman Erica Truban and members Melvin Thomas and Minh Le voted against the motion.

Member Vince Di Benedetto, who voted for the Meadow Branch site last year, was not at the meeting because he was on a cruise, according to Superintendent Rick Leonard. (In 2012, after the School Board voted to construct John Kerr on a similar lot of land near Amherst Street, City Council told board members to revisit the issue.)

Member Allyson Pate recused herself from Monday’s vote “because of a personal interest in real property that could be a financial benefit to me or members of my immediate family.”

Much of the outspoken support from residents has been in favor of the existing site, mainly for its proximity allowing students to walk to school.

Bell said the Meadow Branch site would “do nothing but reduce that.”

“It feels like almost a little bit of an island to itself,” he said.

However, Le said that after she looked over data, only 5 to 7 percent (or 17 to 21) of the 326 John Kerr students walk to school.

“This project is not just a John Kerr project,” she said. “It’s a Winchester community project.”

A lot of the concern about the current site was how “dense” the 15-acre site would be with two buildings on it and Handley High School nearby.

Wise said that a tour taken by the board of a similar two-school site in Manassas assuaged any doubts she had that a “dense” site could be managed.

In response, Truban said: “I agree, a dense property can be managed, but do we want to manage it?”

Ford said she saw the Jefferson Street site in a different light.

“Everybody is talking about it as a dense site, but I look at it as a close-knit site,” she said.

Bishop spoke last and said that though he had previously voted for the Meadow Branch site, he could now see “additional expandibility” at the Jefferson Street location.

He also said that it was the division’s experience with Shockey that won him over.

Shockey has completed 10 PPEA projects. Its local projects include renovations to Handley High School, Daniel Morgan Middle School and Frederick Douglass Elementary School and the building of the new Clarke County High School.

The new 650-student, 93,000-square-foot elementary school is expected to be open by July 2015. The project’s cost is capped at $20 million.

No plans have been developed to address the future use of the existing school.

At the beginning of Monday’s meeting, four parents and/or residents spoke in favor of building on the current site.

One of them was Jackie Hott.

“Moving John Kerr away from the Jefferson Street site will really impact the community that’s been there for 40 years,” she said.

When asked after the meeting what she thought about the decision, Hott exclaimed, “Woohoo!”

— Contact Rebecca Layne at rlayne@winchesterstar.com