• 46°

Study planned for former school site

Isle of Wight residents had the opportunity to share their thoughts about what should be done with a cherished piece of property being evaluated for a new purpose.

Isle of Wight county was awarded a Community Development Block Planning Assistance Grant by Virginia Department of Housing and Community Development. The grant’s initial $3,000 — along with $12,000 contingent on certain requirements — will be used for a market analysis and feasibility study for the site of the former James River Christian Academy, located at 14353 Benns Church Blvd.

An open house and tour held in the school gymnasium on Thursday drew dozens of residents, including alumni. A meeting was held afterwards in the community room at Sentara St. Luke’s to encourage citizen participation in the planning process for the property.

“We did not bring a plan,” said Christopher Morello, the Department of Economic Development assistant director. “We brought our ears, our needs and our designs for the directions this project could take.”

The 24.8-acre site that features two school buildings, the former gymnasium and several apartment townhouses was purchased in March by Vincent Carollo, the president of corporate investment and redevelopment firm JVC Holdings and owner of Anna’s Ristorante on South Church Street.

Renovations under way to the gym were explained at the meeting by project architect Thomas Beverly of T.M. Beverly and Associates.

“We want to make sure that it’s safe, we want to make sure it’s healthy, and we want to make it economically viable for Isle of Wight,” Beverly said.

Founded in 1972, James River Christian Academy closed in 2007. It has since been used for several purposes such as church services, but remains a wonderful reminder of fun high school times for alumni and teachers alike.

Chrissy Farley, an alumni and former teacher at the school, was at the meeting to hear more about considered uses for the setting of many of her formative years.

“It was just a lot of good memories, fun with classmates and great memories as a teacher,” Farley said. “It was really kind of like a family.”

One of the ideas was to use the buildings as community facilities. Parks and Recreation Director Dave Smith presented the option of using the gymnasium as a second venue for school sporting events. A summer camp that typically struggles with scheduling could be held at the renovated school for the convenience of both campers and their parents.

Another idea was using the buildings as a business incubator for small businesses. Upstart companies can share space and resources on the property and benefit from reduced overhead expenses, along with easy highway access to most of Hampton Roads.

“I think it’s an ideal spot to set up that incubator,” said Farmers Bank CEO Richard Holland Jr. at the meeting.

Morello said the next phase will be to draft a request for proposal by mid-October, then solicit to begin the study in early 2018. One of his takeaways from the meeting on Thursday was the positive response to the possibility of using the property as an incubator.

“We learned that there is more interest in the community than there was in the past,” he said. “That was good reinforcement.”