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Plan sought for school capacity issues

December 31, 2001

Plan sought for school capacity issues



By DAVE McMILLION / Staff Writer, Charles Town


Saying crowded conditions in schools are rarely considered when new subdivisions are approved, a Jefferson County Planning Commission member is asking that a new system be formulated for determining when new students will be coming into the county.

Housing developers usually give accurate projections about how many students their subdivisions will generate, but it is often unknown when the students will arrive in schools because it is sometimes not known how quickly the developments will be built, planning commission member David Hammer said.

Some subdivisions may be approved, but not constructed for years.

Or subdivisions that are not expected to be completed for years might be built faster due to increased demand, Hammer said.

That makes it difficult for the public school system to gauge when the students will be entering schools and to set up plans to deal with growth, Hammer said.

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Hammer said he wants the planning commission staff to work with individual developers to determine how many houses they plan to build over a period of time, say six months or a year.

"That, to me, seems to be the essence of good planning," Hammer said.

Stephen R. Bockmiller, the county's chief planner, said he has just started looking into Hammer's request.

But Bockmiller cautioned that without an "adequate public facilities ordinance" on the books in Jefferson County, the planning commission cannot block a subdivision over school capacity issues.

An adequate facilities ordinance generally requires that certain adequate services - such as plenty of schools - be in place before residential growth is allowed.

Jefferson County Board of Education member Pete Dougherty said he has long been concerned about how the county treats school capacity issues.

Dougherty said a developer who wants to build a subdivision in a certain area of the county may say the school that serves that area has capacity for more students. There may be other developers who have said the same thing to get approval to build in the same area, Dougherty said.

If all the developments were built at one time, the school could be put over capacity, Dougherty said.

Hammer said one school that is always recognized as being overcrowded is Jefferson High School, which is between 100 and 200 students over capacity.

Hammer said one of the reasons he recently voted against the Quail Ridge subdivision near the Berkeley and Jefferson County line was because of overcrowding at Jefferson High School.

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