School Board may repurpose Walton after new school opens

By: Michael Campbell | Twitter: @itsthesoup
Posted: September 25, 2018 | 12:30 p.m.

PRINCE GEORGE – Members of the Prince George Board of Supervisors and Prince George School Board have been in active conversations since last August about the need to replace two of the county’s aging facilities and, as they continue to work to an amenable solution that could see a pair of new schools in Prince George, the future of one of those buildings is already being discussed.

On September 11, supervisors voted in favor of providing funding for the construction of a new elementary school should the school board select a 75-acre property along Middle Road. Based on a 2017 assessment of the county’s schools conducted by the school division’s core committee, it was determined that Walton Elementary School was in the most need of replacement, followed by Beazley Elementary on the opposite side of Courthouse Road due to the age of the buildings and security concerns centered around their open-campus design. 

That point was reiterated by Prince George County School Board Chairman Robert Cox in an interview following that meeting where he said talk of building Beazley Elementary School has been had among board members, but the consensus is to keep Walton as the primary school for replacement. 

As Middle Road sits on the table as an option for school division leaders, talk of what could happen to the current Walton Elementary School should the school board agree to build the facility on that site has already begun, with school officials saying they would be open to keeping and repurposing the current building.

The comments came after that September 11 meeting where the three options for the new school’s location were discussed, Middle Road, which was supported by supervisors unanimously, a property near Scott Park along Courthouse Road known as the Buren Tract, and at the school’s current location. While the school board has gone on record during recent meetings and in speaking with local media saying, with the Yancey Tract, a 175-acre plot of land along Route 156 and Quaker Roads, off the table, constructing the new school at the current Walton site is the ideal option. 

According to an analysis of the three sites produced by the county, even though the current Walton Elementary School site has the fact it’s home to the school as an advantage playing in its favor, a site disadvantage to building the school there is, “[Loss of] future sale of site as commercial property for additional tax revenues.”

That analysis further states that the land Walton Elementary currently sits on has an estimated value of $2.16 million. 

From a commercial perspective, that site is a short distance from U.S. Route 460, Interstate 95, 85, and 295 and currently serves as the neighbor to a retail store, along with a fast food restaurant and gas station. 

“The county is limited in future commercial development sites and the subject parcel is well positioned to add annual tax revenues to the county,” a memo from Deputy County Administrator Jeffrey Stoke explained. “The adjacent property,” referring to the Tractor Supply retail store, “sold on February 25, 2013, for $135,000/acre. Based on this transaction, the current 16-acre Walton Elementary School would have an estimated market value of at least $2.16 million.”

Stoke’s memo went on further, “After evaluating opportunity costs – placing the property back on the tax rolls, receiving future tax payments and providing an initial sale amount to the community outweighs the decision to keep this property as an elementary school when alternative locations are available.”

If Walton Elementary were to be built somewhere else, Prince George School Board Chairman Robert Cox said the option to repurpose the school for their needs remains on the table. The county has valued the land at over $2 million and it has been identified as a prime commercial space. (Michael Campbell)

In August, resident and grandson of Supervisor Marlene Waymack, Joseph spoke on that subject during a public comment period, saying the school “sits on another piece of prime property in the county” and that the county could “[try]  find a business to try and match for that property when we vacate it, we can have a very profitable business on our tax roll.”

One month later, School Board Chairman Cox said maintaining the school after the new facility opens remains on the table, which could impact plans to pursue commercial developments. 

“If we don’t build back on that site, we do have uses for that building,” Cox remarked. “That building isn’t just going to go away.”

He added that it’s his belief the county “is adamant” the current Walton Elementary School site “is going to be [a] commercial property for them to sell.”

“We have deed to that building and we don’t have to surrender that deed until we no longer have use for that building,” Cox said. “And there are things we can do to that building.”

Among them, moving the Prince George Education Center from behind J.E.J. Moore Middle School is an idea that has been talked about should the school be moved and the current Walton becomes vacant or for storage.

“We kept the Moore facility for a long time because we were using that for storage, but finally agreed to give it to the county for their wellness center and the same thing for the educational center,” he continued. “We are very limited and we only have the one warehouse by the football field and there’s not a lot of storage in there so we are looking and having a need to store stuff.”

Speaking for himself, Cox said of the moving the Prince George Education Center to the old Walton building, “I think it would be a perfect place for it.”

“Not only do you have a cafeteria, you have a library and a multipurpose room where the kids can exercise, unlike now where the kids either have to exercise outside or they try to work into the gym at Moore and that is kind of hard when you have a middle school and alternative school, but if you had them in their own building, you could take a certain area, limit the power to part of the building and use the other classrooms but have the others for overflow if you need it for anything.”

When asked, Supervisor Floyd Brown spoke to the language in the memo regarding the possibility of selling the land should the school division vacate the property and the site is returned to county ownership.

“If it becomes vacated, then we would look at it, just like any other property,” he said. “But, that isn’t my primary focus. It’s safety and no one has come back and said ‘our safety concerns are gone’ officially on record.”

Cox did say he, speaking for himself, would be interested in a deed swap with the county, allowing the county to take the Walton property in exchange for the Yancey Tract, but nothing has been formally introduced by either board in regards to that idea. 

Following supervisors’ action on September 11, the school board will meet next month to discuss whether they will move forward with building a school on Middle Road.

COMPLETE COVERAGE: New Elementary Schools in Prince George County

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