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Mecklenburg supervisors postpone votes on school site, construction budget / September 12, 2018

Speaking at the end of the regular meeting of the Mecklenburg County Board of Supervisors Monday night, chairman Glenn Barbour said his constituents are getting tired of the Board “kicking the can down the road” instead of agreeing to a site and construction budget for the county’s new consolidated secondary school complex.

However, less than two hours earlier, at Barbour’s direction, supervisors held off taking votes to purchase property for the complex and increase the school construction budget.

A majority had been expected to approve the purchase of nearly 173 acres of land at the corner of U.S. 58 and Wooden Bridge Road from William “Billy” S. Wilkinson and Jeremy W. Seaman and others. Members also signaled their support for increasing the school construction budget from its current limit of $100 million to $120 million.

Supervisors did, however, authorize county staff to move forward with plans to borrow an additional $40 million on Oct. 1 through the Virginia Public School Authority school facilities financing program. Once this bond package is secured, the county will have borrowed $90 million for the school construction project. Supervisors previously set aside an additional $10 million in savings.

Barbour referred the matter to the board’s property committee and tabled a discussion of the school construction proposed budget, citing the lack of a final engineering study as the reason. Sam Carroll and other engineers with B&B Consultants, the firm conducting geological surveys of the property, were present at the meeting in Boydton Monday night and told supervisors they believed the site posed no significant geological issues.

Carroll said the expected problems with excessive rock and potential wetlands have not materialized, from the information he’s seen. Supervisors and Billy Upton, the county’s school architect, feared the ground beneath the construction site could contain a massive granite vein that could prove expensive to excavate. They also had concerns that the slope of the land could facilitate water buildup in areas around the proposed athletic fields.

Supervisors agreed to reconvene their meeting Monday at noon to discuss the school project after project manager Eddie Evans with architectural firm Ballou Justice Upton promised to have the final geotechnical survey in hand by Wednesday. Barbour had asked the board to meet as early as Thursday, Sept. 13 to discuss the school project but was dissuaded by other members of the board concerned about the looming hurricane.

Claudia Lundy shared the frustrations of her constituents who are pressing her to move forward with plans to erect new secondary schools in the county. She said many expressed a willingness to pay an additional one-cent tax as long as the money was used for a school auditorium and larger classrooms, not an ag barn or an aquatics center.

Gordon, a vocal opponent to the proposed site of the future complex in Baskerville, seemed to concede that fight in favor of the bigger issue — the importance of educating future generations at a level equal to that received by children in wealthier and more urban settings.

“It is disheartening that [the Baskerville] site is one of the more expensive ones we considered, but if we are going to the extra expense [to purchase and prepare the property] we must be also willing to subsidize what is needed. I believe there are better sites, but so be it,” said Gordon. “Don’t lose sight of the big picture why we are doing this and its importance to future generations.”

Gordon also disagreed with Lundy’s constituents who viewed the ag barn and ag classrooms as unnecessary. “My people are telling me ‘don’t cut back’ but find ways to expand. Don’t put off the ag facility,” which they see as important to educating students about land science and being good stewards of land.

In other business, dog warden Doug Blanton explained limitations with Virginia laws that do no allow him to take action against dog owners who allow their pets to roam away from the owner’s property. He said unless the dog attacks a person on that person’s property or on a site not owned or controlled by the dog owner, his hands are tied.

One solution, he said, would be for the state to enact a leash law, but that would cause problems for hunters whose dogs might unintentionally stray onto someone’s property will tracking wildlife. Hunting dogs would be considered no different than other wandering dogs and subject the owner to a fine or other penalty.

Blanton said he empathized with the people living in Baskerville who shared problems with a dog owner who allowed his dogs to wander throughout the neighborhood, intimidating residents, destroying gardens and defecating around neighbor’s homes. His actions are limited by the laws of Virginia which protects these animals.

During the public comment phase, Baskerville resident Mark Dziamba shared concerns from residents living near the proposed site of the new county’s new secondary school complex. He said they questioned why the County was paying so much — the proposed purchase price is nearly $1.8 million — when it was bought by its current owner “for a lot less money than is being paid by county.”

He said they also wondered if nearby residents would be able to tap into the new water and sewer lines being run to the site. Their greatest concern was with the traffic problems that might arise once buses, students and teachers pour into the property using the back roads of Baskerville. “How much are our lives going to be upset by this? What if there is more property that needs to be bought, what happens then,” Dziamba asked.

Carter said VDOT anticipates most traffic will access the property using U.S. 58. But supervisor Jim Jennings was unpersuaded. Saying “we need to learn from past mistakes,” – a reference to the dust problems suffered from residents of Rochichi Drive in Boydton after the county rented the land at the end of the road to Rudds Creek Marina but did not pave the road. Earlier this summer VDOT undertook to lay asphalt over the gravel portion of the road.

David Brankley, who heads supervisors’ secondary roads committee told Carter, “We need to work with the neighbors of the future school to be good neighbors,” and he assured Dziamba “if there is any change we need to keep those people under consideration.”

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