timberland 14 inch premium boots Emails illuminate disagreement over 4
WILLIAMSBURG Next Tuesday, the Board of Supervisors will sit down with school division officials to discuss the fourth middle school project at James Blair.
The Board of Supervisors will meet with Superintendent Steven M. Constantino, School Board Chairman Jim Kelly and Vice Chair Kyra Cook to discuss funding the project, and the county board will get a chance to ask school officials questions about the need for the building.
The first phase of the project is budgeted to cost $26 million and will build a 600 student capacity school. Phase two will add space for 300 more students, and could cost between $21 and $29 million.
Behind the scenes, the project has been an active topic of discussion in emails between officials in the county, School Board and the city of Williamsburg.
In honor of Sunshine Week an annual celebration of the public’s access to government documents the Virginia Gazette asked James City County, the city of Williamsburg and W JCC Schools for all emails discussing the fourth middle school in January and February.
The Freedom of Information Act request returned more than 1,000 pages of emails. The majority of the emails were communication among school staff moving the project forward. These included cost estimates, conversations about what features to include in the new building and back and forth between contractors and school operations staff.
A handful of the emails revealed the vocal opposition of a small group of citizens concerned with the cost and scope of the project. Citizen activists David Jarman and Jay Everson and developer Chris Henderson account for the majority of these emails written to elected officials about the project.
Meanwhile, the majority of members on the City Council, Board of Supervisors, and School Board remain in favor of the project.
On the Board of Supervisors, John McGlennon, Ruth Larson and Chairman Michael Hipple have indicated the project should go forward, while Supervisors Kevin Onizuk and Sue Sadler have raised questions about its necessity.
On the seven member School Board, newcomers Holly Taylor and Sandra Young won elections partly based on their opposition to the new middle school. But there seems to be little support from other members for jettisoning the approved project, which has been vigorously defended by Kelly and Cook.
A majority of Williamsburg City Council has expressed support for the plan, according to Councilman Scott Foster. “We’ve had plenty of discussions, the general sentiment is in favor of it,” Foster said, referring to the council. He said he has read complaints from some of the citizen detractors of the plan, but he trusts the school division’s guidance on the matter.
“I do appreciate their input, the data they’re using is not the best data available. So I have to defer to the school administration’s information.”
Onizuk, Sadler push for more information
On the Board of Supervisors, Supervisors Kevin Onizuk and Sue Sadler have raised concerns about the middle school plan since the county’s budget retreat on a snowy Saturday morning in late January.
Board members have received or sent several hundred emails regarding the middle school project since early January.
Sadler told Onizuk in an email that she was getting “a lot of feedback from citizens who are appreciative of us revisiting James Blair,” in an email sent on Jan. 25.
She also thanked Jarman for his input on the middle school,
in an email sent on Jan. 27. “Thank you for contacting me and for your willingness to provide such detailed and helpful information. I am currently reading and studying over this, and appreciate the offer to communicate with you. We may need to consider planning a meeting sometime in the near future, along with a few others,” Sadler said.
“We personally do not support converting James Blair back into a fourth middle school. A significant investment was made to transform that building into administrative space and it should function in that capacity,” Angela and R. Dean Whitehead wrote to Onizuk, in an email dated Jan. 26.
Onizuk responded to the couple.
“I agree the “4th middle school” proposal does need some additional discussion and detail before we finalize plans and release funds to the W JCC Schools,” Onizuk wrote in the email. Onizuk previously voted for the plan when he joined the board, but said he felt rushed. Now, he says it needs more consideration.
“We on the Board of Supervisors have a fiscal responsibility to JCC tax payers to ensure we are getting value for every dollar spent, and a responsibility to W JCC students to ensure funds are being spent where it will have the maximum benefit for their education.”
Local real estate developer Chris Henderson has also pushed to the board to abandon the James Blair project. Henderson floated his own proposal to build a middle school at an alternative site in 2014, but it never received strong consideration.
Henderson has been a leading critic of the James Blair site.
“We need to abandon the 4th Middle at Blair and find a better, more cost solution,” Henderson wrote in an email to the Board of Supervisors on Jan. 26. “The site is too small and the building costs too much. Keep James Blair as the Administration Building and use the Annex for a magnet program.”
Onizuk responded to Henderson, and also apologized for the way Onizuk said Henderson was treated when he pitched an alternative to the James Blair project.
“I was very disappointed in how your proposal was handled by the WJCC Schools (and JCC) and apologize for how you have been treated,” Onizuk wrote in a Monday, Jan. 25 email, after Henderson emailed him upset about his proposal’s treatment by the county and school division.
Onizuk never voiced support for Henderson’s plan, only saying it deserved consideration.
“Regardless of if the proposal would/could have been approved, you should have been applauded for your suggestion and help in providing an alternative. Instead you were chastised and all of us involved in supporting the idea were negatively portrayed by some members of the School Board, some members of the BOS, and most significantly by the Virginia Gazette,” Onizuk wrote.
“He tried to put something out there, whether it was not a good idea it never got vetted,” Onizuk said. “Someone was very intent on making that proposal go away. Any citizen, when they put something forward they’ve invested time in, they should at least have a courteous thank you,” Onizuk told the Gazette Monday.