(ALBEMARLE COUNTY, Virginia)—Albemarle County Public Schools (ACPS) will host a gallery walk from 6:30 to 8 p.m. on Tuesday, November 28, to enable the community to review and provide feedback on a phased approach to the division’s Middle School Facilities Master Plan.
This past spring, ACPS partnered with VMDO Architects, a local architectural firm specializing in K-12 education, to develop a 20-year master plan to address, improve and resolve capacity challenges and renovation needs at the division’s five comprehensive middle schools and one charter school that serves students in grades 6-12. Following a months-long comprehensive study, during which they toured and assessed the division’s middle school facilities and collected input from middle school students, staff and families, VMDO recommended a phased approach to addressing the division’s middle school capacity and equity needs. The project management team agreed to advance VMDO’s proposals for public review.
VMDO’s recommendations include four phases of improvements that consider looming overcrowding issues at Henley Middle School in Crozet and at Journey Middle School on Lambs Lane in Charlottesville, along with factors such as projected enrollment growth, the age and condition of the division’s middle school facilities, environmental sustainability, unique school and community needs, and the ability of ACPS facilities to support current and future educational programming. The four proposed phases, which are intended to overlap rather than be implemented sequentially, include a middle school redistricting study, expanding or replacing Community Lab School, building a new middle school, and renovating all of the division’s existing middle schools to meet identified standards, ranging from basic maintenance to major facility improvements to high-performance upgrades.
Phase 1: Middle School Redistricting Study recommends reviewing current middle school attendance boundaries and evaluating the potential to address enrollment and capacity challenges through redistricting and possibly increasing enrollment at Walton Middle School. Should the study determine that redistricting and expanding Walton’s enrollment would be in the best interest of students and the community, this phase also would include moderate renovations at Walton.
“Collectively, our middle schools offer adequate capacity to handle our projected middle school enrollment through at least the next 10 years. The issue is that the available space is not located in the schools where we need it most,” said Rosalyn Schmitt, the division’s Chief Operating Officer. “In Phase 1, at the direction of the school board and in accordance with policy, the division would convene a redistricting advisory committee to carefully and thoughtfully consider a variety of factors and advise on whether we can accommodate current capacity needs and long-term growth projections through redistricting,” she explained.
In Phase 2: Lab School Expansion, VMDO proposes expanding and renovating, or replacing, Community Lab School. Beyond much-needed facility improvements, the goal is to increase enrollment to help address short-term capacity challenges while also increasing access to the charter school for students across the division. VMDO recommends renovations to double Lab School enrollment from 200 to 400 students, including 100 additional middle school students and 100 more high school students.
“There are a lot of factors to consider,” said Lindsay Snoddy, Director of Building Services. “Community Lab, which was built in the late 1950s, is our facility most in need of renovations. The division will need to weigh all of the advantages and disadvantages, as well as the costs, of renovating the space versus replacing the facility to determine which option offers our students the most benefit with the least disruption,” she said.
“If we proceed with redistricting in Phase 1 and expansion of Community Lab School in Phase 2, those actions would resolve our short-term capacity issues based on our 10-year enrollment projections. Phase 3, in which we take on the building of a new middle school, is where we would see our long-term growth projections addressed,” said Lisa Walker, Senior Project Planner for Building Services.
Phase 3: Build a New Middle School recommends that the division construct a new comprehensive middle school in the northwestern portion of the county to help alleviate overcrowding at Henley, Jouett and Lakeside middle schools. This phase would require redrawing existing attendance boundaries and redistricting up to 600 students across three schools.
“In order to adequately serve our middle school students 10, 15, 20 years from now, we either need to build a new school or we need to construct additions at several of our existing schools. Both options will have significant capital costs and operational impacts,” said Schmitt. “One benefit of building a new school would be creating consistency in the number of students served by each of our comprehensive middle schools, moving each school closer to an enrollment goal of 600 students,” she added.
The final phase, Phase 4: Renovate and Improve All Middle Schools, is aimed at creating equitable, sustainable, flexible and adaptable facilities that support high-quality learning for all students. In this phase, all middle schools will undergo alterations and renovations through a tiered approach to improvements, ranging from basic repairs and maintenance to major programming enhancements and improvements that ensure the highest level of equity in school learning spaces.
Each of the four phases of improvements has been developed and evaluated based on eight criteria that align with the division’s strategic plan, Virginia Department of Education guidelines, educational best practices, and community feedback. Those criteria include instruction, equity, cost, staffing, disruption, transportation, community priorities, and flexibility and adaptability.
The November 28 gallery walk will be held in the gymnasium of Community Lab School, located at 1200 Forest Street in Charlottesville. The gallery will open for public viewing at 6:30 p.m. ACPS will officially welcome guests at 6:45, followed by a presentation by VMDO Architects. The gallery walk and a Q&A session will follow at 7:30.
In addition to asking questions and providing feedback during the November 28 gallery walk, community members are welcome to submit questions and comments to the project team via email at email@example.com. VMDO will incorporate community feedback into their final report, which will be delivered to the project steering committee in December. A summary of the final plan will be presented to the Albemarle County School Board and provided to the Long-Range Planning Advisory Committee and other groups in early 2024. The final report also will be made available to the public at that time.
More information about the Middle School Facilities Master Plan, including an overview, a project timeline, survey results, and presentations, can be found on the project website at k12albemarle.org/msmasterplan.
CONTACT: Helen Dunn, Deputy Public Affairs and Strategic Communications Officer