Planners give nod to school site

Published 2:51 pm Friday, January 22, 2016

The Suffolk Planning Commission on Tuesday recommended approval of the rezoning of land surrounding the current Florence Bowser Elementary School on Nansemond Parkway.

Together with the land where the school currently sites, the additional land will become the site of a new, larger elementary school.

Commissioners expressed concern about drainage issues, the location of the school, the plan for moving students during construction and the demolition of a historic but derelict Rosenwald school building on the site.

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“When we have rain, it’s bigtime wet out there,” Commissioner Ronnie Rountree said.

“We are very aware of the existing drainage issues,” said Jeff Harris with RRMM architects, the project manager.

Harris said he believes the water management pond on the site will take care of the drainage issues. Most of the water currently collects where the pond is planned, anyway, he said.

Commissioner James Vacalis said he was concerned about the location of the school. The comprehensive plan states elementary schools should be located in growth areas and in areas where at least some students can walk to school, he noted.

“The school is obviously needed; my only comments are the location of the school,” he said.

Acting Planning Director Robert Goumas said the city is adhering to “other smart growth principles” by putting the new school where one already exists, meaning utilities and other infrastructure are already in place.

Commissioner Anita Hicks said she graduated from Florence Bowser Elementary School, and her mother graduated from Florence Graded School. She asked if there was a plan for the historic Rosenwald school building on the site.

“It’s in such disrepair and poor condition that the school has no intention of redeveloping this site,” said city Capital Programs and Buildings Director Gerry Jones.

He added that a good portion of the roof is caved in and that there is no plan for a re-use of the building. Trying to save it would also throw off the schedule for opening the new school, he said.

“It would really put the elementary school on a path to not make it happen in 2018, and it’s desperately needed,” he said.

After others expressed concern about moving Florence Bowser’s 227 students to Driver Elementary School during the two-year construction period, Superintendent Deran Whitney said portable classrooms also will be moved to accommodate the students.

“Creekside will be out of the question, because it’s overcrowded,” Whitney said, adding that about 200 students from Creekside will move to the new school, as well as all of Florence Bowser’s and Driver’s populations, once it’s complete.

The vote for the rezoning was 7-1, with Commissioner Johnnie Edwards III in opposition.

In other business, the commission also approved the Capital Improvements Plan, which now will be considered by the City Council.