CIP good news for N. Suffolk

Published 9:36 pm Wednesday, March 11, 2015

There was good news for North Suffolk families in the approval of a new Capital Improvements Plan in last week’s City Council meeting.

The body unanimously approved a plan that keeps intact proposals for two new schools in North Suffolk, an elementary school and a middle school.

Members also made it clear they want to see a larger middle school than the original 600-student proposal.

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“We need to move toward that 800-pupil capacity,” Councilman Mike Duman said.

North Suffolk schools are desperately overcrowded, and hundreds of students are learning in mobile units. John Yeates Middle School, for example, has 17 mobile units.

The other North Suffolk council representatives, Roger Fawcett and Leroy Bennett, were in agreement with Duman.

“We desperately need to be sure that we stay the course and we don’t deviate off of the schools,” Fawcett said.

“I’m hoping we’ll all work together with the schools and make sure they’re in agreement with us (on the number of students),” Bennett said.

Deputy City Manager Patrick Roberts said the city has worked with the school system throughout the process of developing the Capital Improvements Plan. The school system said 600 was the minimum size middle school it would be interested in operating.

“I think 800 has certainly been the message we’ve heard from the School Board more recently,” Roberts said.

The elementary school is proposed to serve 1,000 students.

The city now proposes to provide $18.6 million in the coming fiscal year to begin the process of building both schools, which could be open by fall 2018.

Both schools would eventually cost $53.2 million. The funding still must be approved in City Council’s budget process.

A new downtown library was delayed in order to direct more funding to schools. But during last week’s public hearing, a member of the Library Advisory Board lobbied to keep funding for the library in the coming year.

“Keep in mind how pushing off the development and building of this library downtown is going to impact the city,” Sean Bilby said. “The library is also part of the educational system. Programs and events are severely limited by the present library that we have.”

But two other speakers supported the decision to prioritize schools.

“We have an existing obligation to the students, and we are over capacity right now,” Chris Dove said.

Melissa Venable added: “I certainly do hope that you will approve both the middle school and the elementary school to move forward.”

In other good news for North Suffolk, $2.5 million for the Driver Park Sports Complex is proposed, as is $600,000 for various improvements to Sleepy Hole Park.

Also, a variety of road improvements in North Suffolk are planned to be funded in the coming fiscal year to improve traffic flow and safety. Targeted intersections include Nansemond Parkway and Bennetts Pasture Road, Bennetts Pasture Road and Bridge Road, and Bridge Road and Lee Farm Lane.