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2018-05-23 / Featured / Real Estate

Harrowgate Elementary still on track for demolition

BY JIM McCONNELL SENIOR WRITER


The megasite plan has been withdrawn, but county officials still plan to proceed with demolition of Harrowgate Elementary in Chester to make way for the first leg of the East-West Freeway. 
JAMES HASKINS The megasite plan has been withdrawn, but county officials still plan to proceed with demolition of Harrowgate Elementary in Chester to make way for the first leg of the East-West Freeway. JAMES HASKINS A megasite may not be in the works for Chesterfield at the moment, but two related projects are: the road county leaders hoped would connect the megasite with Interstate 95, and demolition of a school that lies in its path.

Last September, following the county’s announcement that it planned to develop an industrial megasite in south Chester and start construction on the first leg of the long-planned East-West Freeway, the county school system declared it was changing course with regard to its aging Harrowgate Elementary School. Rather than renovate the building, which is situated in the county’s preferred alignment for the proposed freeway, it would rebuild elsewhere.

Now, the application to rezone land for the megasite has been withdrawn, but the school system still intends to demolish Harrowgate Elementary and build a replacement school at a nearby county park.

Tim Bullis, a spokesman for Chesterfield County Public Schools, noted in an email that the decision to rebuild – rather than renovate – the 59-year-old school “was made separate from the county’s decision related to the megasite, but in conjunction with county leadership who are supportive of the plan.” Harrowgate was one of the final four aging schools slated for revitalization as part of a $304 million bond referendum approved by county voters in 2013.

The school system originally budgeted $18.5 million for the Harrowgate renovation, but when the county’s Transportation Department concluded last year that the school is located within its preferred alignment for the East-West Freeway, the School Board and Board of Supervisors jointly decided it made more sense to build a replacement on a different site.

The Chesterfield Economic Development Authority said the initial 2 ½-mile stretch of the East-West Freeway was critical to its plan to develop an industrial megasite on 1,675 acres south of state Route 10.

As work proceeded on that project, school and county leaders allocated an additional $15.1 million in the school system’s fiscal year 2019 capital improvement plan for construction of a new 750-seat Harrowgate Elementary, and selected Harrowgate Park as its likely site.

The park is adjacent to Carver Middle School, less than a mile south of the elementary school’s current location.

Loss of the park’s athletic fields and other recreational amenities was among the concerns expressed by thousands of Chester residents who vehemently opposed the megasite plan, eventually prompting the EDA to withdraw its rezoning application earlier this month.

Mike Uzel, who coordinated opposition to the megasite as leader of the citizen group Bermuda Advocates for Responsible Development, said the county “jumped the gun” by deciding to take the park before soliciting input from the community that uses it.

“It’s another example of the county saying, ‘This is what we’re going to do to you,’” Uzel said.

Now that the megasite has been scuttled, Uzel thinks the school system should return to its original plan and renovate Harrowgate Elementary on its current site.

“That’s what the citizens approved in the bond referendum,” he said.

Megasite or no megasite, the county is moving forward with the East-West Freeway. Transportation staff are awaiting federal approval of an environmental assessment on the project, which is envisioned as a key future corridor for commercial development in southern Chesterfield.

According to Jesse Smith, the county’s transportation director, routing the roadway through Harrowgate Elementary was necessary to minimize impact on residential property owners in a densely populated part of south Chester. The current alignment will require the relocation of three homeowners and partial acquisition of several other parcels.

Rather than spend millions to renovate a building that likely will have to be torn down at some point to make way for the East-West Freeway, county and school officials say they’ll ultimately save taxpayers money by relocating.

Extensive renovation was expected to keep the school in service for another 25 years. While a new facility will cost more in the short term, it will have an estimated 60-year lifespan.

Board of Supervisors Chairwoman Dorothy Jaeckle noted that regardless of the county’s plans for the future roadway, school officials identified Harrowgate Park as the preferred site for the new elementary school.

“By moving the school to the new location, it will have the advantage of being co-located with Carver Middle School. The new site will be easier to access for both buses and cars,” she wrote in an email Sunday. “There is also the advantage of not needing to relocate the students as the new school is being built.”

Bullis said the findings of a “test fit,” which determines whether there is adequate space to build the school system’s one-story elementary school prototype design on the Harrowgate Park property, will be presented to the School Board at its June meeting.

The Board of Supervisors also will have to determine whether using the park as a school site complies with the county’s comprehensive plan – a process known as “substantial accord.”

The school system’s substantial accord application for the new Harrowgate Elementary is expected to be considered by the Planning Commission in July. ¦

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