Our View: Final thoughts (on John Kerr) — C&S site is an ‘acquired taste’ . . .

Posted: November 23, 2013

Though the percentages cited vary with the speaker and perhaps even the jurisdiction, it’s safe to say that Virginia localities spend more on public education than they do on anything else.

Whether the percentage of taxpayer treasure expended on schools is 60 percent, or closer to 70 percent, is of little import for the purposes of this discussion. The point we wish to make is this: No local revenue issue hits closer to home, hearth — and pocketbook — than school spending. And no issue in this line-item category generates more emotion, even angst, than school construction, particularly in localities such as Winchester that highly value their schools and do not build new ones very often.

That said, we do not view the latest burgeoning cause celebre, the selection of a site for a new John Kerr Elementary School, cavalierly. We understand the strong feelings of support for keeping the school in its current neighborhood, on a site a literal stone’s throw away from the existing JKES.

Yet, as we’ve said before in this space, we simply don’t believe the site proposed by Shockey P3 LLC and given tentative backing by the city School Board is the best choice for a new elementary school. We prefer the alternative location put forth by C&S Design Development LLC, and so consider it our duty to answer the myriad misconceptions and misunderstandings surrounding this site vis-a-vis the Jefferson Street locale.

We admit, at first blush, the Jefferson site is the logical choice for the new John Kerr — almost too much so. The 15.85-acre tract is, to all intents and purposes, publicly owned, the property of the Handley Board of Trustees. It is zoned precisely for its intended use. It is but a short walk from Handley High School, close to a Museum of the Shenandoah Valley poised to implement a master plan particularly exciting for school groups, and it’s nestled in the bosom of a neighborhood that holds it dear.

By contrast, the C&S site — 9.3 acres south of Amherst Street between Merrimans Lane and the long-anticipated extension of Meadow Branch Avenue — is an acquired taste, if for no other reasons than because it involves the coupling of two separate real-estate parcels and requires realignment of the footprint for the Meadow Branch extension.

For all its obvious merit — namely, satisfaction of all the “bridging document” criteria set forth by the School Board — C&S President Tucker Conaboy nonetheless calls his firm’s proposal “complicated,” at least when initially compared to the Jefferson site. It’s subject, he says, to “misunderstanding” — and therein, we sense, lies the source of all the misconceptions.