Open Forum: No need for bewilderment

Posted: November 12, 2013

I am writing in response to Carl Ekberg’s statements in his Nov. 8 Open Forum submission. I am not sure why Mr. Ekberg is so bewildered about the John Kerr process. If Vincent di Benedetto was unable to attend the School Board meeting, he was unable to attend. If one is trying to assert there was something afoot to skew the vote in one direction, that is laughable. It is simple: Mr. di Benedetto was not present, and the board still had the required quorum, so the vote proceeded.

I would have been stunned if we delayed a major-issue vote because one board member was away. Would you have been bewildered had a supporter of the Jefferson Street location been away at the time of the vote?

The fact that “95 percent of the students are bused” is not entirely accurate, as it is a function of the attendance zones being drawn to best minimize the overcrowding and current JKES space limitations. All of our current schools in Winchester are neighborhood schools, a unique feature that continues to draw people to live in the city.

Many believe that centering a school in or near neighborhoods serves to preserve neighborhoods and many of the schools also double as community gathering sites and parks as many children play at all the locations, even in the summer. I have four children who all have attended JKES and they all utilized the play areas and play fields as much when school is notin session as when it is in session.

If Mr. Ekberg had read the Shockey PPEA detail, he would have seen the several pages in Sections 10 and 13 in respect to the traffic management issues with Jefferson Street and Nester Drive. Section 13 even details the facets of VDOT’s comprehensive improvement plan and both the Meadow Branch Avenue and Nester extensions appear on the plan, with Meadow Branch Avenue being projected to be considerably more expensive. (Pages 64-65). In addition, anyone who would try to tell me Merrimans Lane and a four-lane Meadow Branch would be a safer walk for my kids would surely be pulling my leg.

The interior space is estimated in the C&S proposal and with the open designs of both proposals, one would have to compare the square footage of the classrooms and learning areas to make an accurate comparison, so using traditional square-footage measurements is not entirely accurate.

I did attend the presentations by both contractors and both had great plans that would serve Winchester and our kids well. Both allowed for expansion when needed, and both offered features that I found very interesting. I and some other parents are concerned that the C&S proposal spent considerable amounts of time talking about “future development” for both residential and commercial. I am not sure removing 9.3 acres of land from the tax rolls would be wise, if that property is so valuable.

We also do not know what the final price is that C&S will pay for not one but two parcels required to build the school. Many folks were not aware that there are two parcels owned by separate entities that C&S must negotiate with.

Some 86 percent of JKES PTO respondents support keeping JKES in the “neighborhood.” The Museum of the Shenandoah Valley is a big supporter of keeping JKES at the current location and has included it as part of the MSV’s strategic comprehensive plans.

Representatives from local firm Reader Swartz gave a compelling presentation about how the Green Circle and surrounding greenscape will tie in with the new JKES at the Jefferson location, opening up many additional learning programs for the children.

None of our schools are in a traffic-friendly area. We will always be challenged as we live and learn on a relatively small parcel of land surrounded by Frederick County. Mr. Ekberg should not be bewildered. Keeping JKES at the terminus of Jefferson Street rebuilt in a smarter fashion is not only more desirable, but it also appears to be more cost-effective using many existing resources while improving the learning opportunities for the children who will attend it.

Paul E. Lewis resides in Winchester.