By: Michael Campbell | Twitter: @itsthesoup
Posted: July 19, 2018 | 12:35 p.m.
Supervisors ask school board to bring other sites for consideration
PRINCE GEORGE – The Prince George School Board has to go back to the proverbial drawing board after supervisors agreed unanimously to remove the school division’s first pick for the location of one of two new elementary schools from consideration, the Yancey property just off Prince George Drive and Quaker Road.
The decision came during the Prince George Board of Supervisors’ monthly work session where, along with discussing the property and its viability as a site for a new 750-student elementary school, leaders debated whether placing a school there would be giving up a valuable asset for business and development years down the road.
According to county records, the Yancey Tract is a 175-acre piece of property owned by Prince George at the corner of East Quaker Road and Prince George Drive, just south of Pole Run Road and two of the county’s other schools, N.B. Clements Jr. High and Prince George High School.
Zoned currently as “R-A, Residential Agricultural,” as of 2018, the land was assessed at a market value of $762,000, down from the $907,000 in market value the property had been assessed dating back to 2013.
Prior to their decision, supervisors were briefed by Dan Villhauer of Dewberry, the county’s engineering consultant, about what would be needed in order to get water and wastewater services to the Yancey Tract and how much that would cost the county while looking at a number of scenarios.
According to Dewberry’s research regarding water service, maps show current water lines stop near the intersection of Laurel Springs Road and Prince George Drive all the way to just off the intersection of U.S. Route 460 and Prince George Drive near the Central Wellness Center and the new Love’s Travel Center.
In addition, ongoing water system improvement projects at the Food Lion system near their distribution center and north of the Yancey Tract along Route 156 would not provide any sort of water or wastewater service to the property that could be utilized by a school or other facility.
In order to address the deficiency in water service in the area, Dewberry proposed a million-dollar infrastructure project that would see water lines added along Prince George Drive in either one of two ways, either to service only the Yancey Tract or create a loop and connect with the current lines that exist along U.S. Route 460 near the Central Wellness Center.
While the water lines could initially be brought in to only service the Yancey property, Dewberry noted that it would be possible to move forward with the looping of the Route 156 water main after the line is installed at the property, as looping the line provides a number of benefits to the system, including improved water age, improved fire flow availability, with some areas possibly seeing a 1,500 gallon per minute increase in fire flow rates, improved redundancy should a break ever occur, allowing for service to continue to the school uninterrupted, and the loop is part of the county’s overall water and sewer master plan, allowing for additional service to other parcels along Prince George Drive.
On the sewer side, Dewberry representatives explained if services would only be extended enough to service the elementary school, a small grinder pump station, which takes waste from the facility and grinds it into a slurry before pumping to a wastewater treatment facility, and roughly 6,200 linear feet of two-and-a-half-inch force main to meet the proposed school’s needs. Down the road, should the county continue to work to make the corridor match its master plan, the force main would be reduced by 925 linear feet and a 24-inch gravity sewer would be put in its place instead. Eventually, the grinder pump station that would serve the school could then be converted to a gravity manhole and waste from the area would be routed to a regional pump station or to a wastewater treatment facility.
According to Dewberry, the cost to only service the school through a water extension and sewer connection would cost roughly $2.3 million, with that estimated price tag not including the cost of the water service and sewer laterals for the school as Dewberry’s analysis only looked at getting the infrastructure to the property line.
Should the county opt to do the complete water loop extension and the additional gravity sewer, it would add an additional $2 million to the price tag, bringing the estimated total to $4.4 million.
In terms of timing, Dewberry representatives explained engineering and permitting alone would take approximately 12 months, followed by approximately three months for the bidding and contract award process, and another nine months for construction of said infrastructure to service the school, meaning it would take roughly two years for the school service portion of the water and sewer project to reach completion.
To complete the water loop, another nine months would be needed following the completion of the school service portion of the project, meaning the complete project duration would be just short of three years.
For some on the Prince George Board of Supervisors, while completing the water system loop would provide key benefits, including improved fire flow capacity, the fact that sewer service would see little improvement presented questions about the cost truly addresses the needs of that Route 156 corridor.
“Spending that kind of money is a lot for me and there are two issues for me here,” Supervisor Floyd Brown remarked. “We need water and sewer there eventually whether we build a school there or not. What building the school there does is it forces the issue a bit sooner. When I am looking at the cost, I am looking to determine the long-term benefit because we have to look beyond one to two years and start looking at five to ten years down the road.”
Supervisor T.J. Webb, a longtime advocate of improving the county’s infrastructure, reiterated his position following the detailed report by Dewberry.
“We have to do something about utilities overall because this is a big countywide issue,” he said. “We can’t keep kicking this can down the road.”
Webb continued, “My concern is, if we don’t do anything about utilities over the next five to ten years, we are going to be putting everything on the taxpayers to carry the burden. We have got to get utilities here so we can get some industry. We don’t have to grow like Chesterfield [County], but we are way behind the curve based on this report.”
“I want to make sure we are not giving up an asset when it comes to the Yancey Tract,” he added, suggesting that the site could be suitable for other purposes, such as business or industry, other than serving as the home of a new elementary school.
Prior to the decision of the board, Chairman Alan Carmichael explained the rationale of this study conducted by Dewberry, noting it would be in the county’s best interest to get “two birds with one stone,” referring to trying to expand water service along Route 156 to the Yancey Tract and beyond to connect with existing pipes along U.S. Route 460.
“If we start a project to run these items to the school, the residents in the area will see the construction and then think that they can go ahead and sell that piece of land they have been holding on to and begin building but it would only be going to the school,” Carmichael said, adding that there were still a number of “unknowns” that kept him from believing the utility proposal related to the school’s location at the Yancey Tract was the best option.
As Prince George Schools Superintendent Renee Williams and school board chair Robert Cox sat in the audience, supervisors agreed via consensus to ask the school board and administration to bring their second option for a school location after County Administrator Percy Ashcraft questioned how much progress has been made since the board received a report from a school division committee one year earlier.
“We’ve talked about this facility for most of 2018 and, it’ll be August soon, we haven’t moved much since the committee met last summer,” Ashcraft remarked. “You may or may not be prepared to answer these questions but, the board [of supervisors] should take a position about where they are headed.”
Earlier this year, at the suggestion of the county, the school board opted to take a “slower approach” to building one of the two new schools, which saw the planned five-cent real estate tax increase nixed from the county’s proposed budget due to significant spending on the project not occurring during the now-current financial year. At that time, the school was budgeted to cost $29 million to construct.
When asked, School Board Chairman Cox said he and the school board will work to develop an alternate location for consideration.