Expect more school growth

Published 9:12 am Wednesday, March 28, 2018

Northern Isle of Wight growth already having impact

By Elizabeth Pattman

Staff writer

New housing developments in the northern part of Isle of Wight County may lead to overpopulation in the Isle of Wight school system, according to a presentation by Amy Ring, the director of planning and zoning for Isle of Wight County.

Ring spoke to the School Board recently about the impacts further development could have on public services, including the school system.

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This year, development at Benn’s Grant caused an influx of students beyond what was predicted in a capacity study completed last year for Isle of Wight County schools. The numbers difference has led the School Board and county planning staff to take another look at calculating the impact of future growth on school capacity. {mprestriction ids=”1,2,3,4,5,6″}

According to Ring, most of the undeveloped land throughout the northern part of the county is currently zoned as Rural Agricultural Conservation districts. For development applicants to rezone five or more lots to residential districts, a public impact assessment and a financial impact analysis must be completed. These assessments require several agencies to estimate potential impacts to public services and compare potential revenues to additional public service costs from the development. 

To understand the impact a development may have on public schools, staff relies on calculations provided in the 2012 cash proffer study as well as the current school capacity levels and enrollment projections, according to Ring.  The planning and zoning department uses student generation ratios to estimate the approximate number of new students a development would bring to the school district and at what grade levels they would enter. These estimates are then compared to school capacities and enrollment levels to determine if the school has the capacity to bring in the new students. 

Ring provided an example to the Board to clarify the process. In her example, it was estimated that 0.378 students will enter school from a single-family home, 0.281 students from a multi-family home, and 0.301 students will enter school from a mobile home. These are the ratios provided by the 2012 study, she said. If a development includes 240 multi-family homes, such as The Crossings in Carrollton, staff would assume that there would be 67 students entering the school system from that development said Ring. If the schools affected do not have the capacity for those 67 students, there is a problem, said Ring.

Ring further detailed this evaluation process using developments in the county that have already begun or finished construction, including Benn’s Grant, Carrollton Manor and the Nest 17 in Eagle Harbor. These four developments will include a total of 581 single-family homes and 208 multi-family homes, which equals an estimated 279 students entering the county’s schools, said Ring. This would put Carrollton Elementary, Windsor Elementary and Smithfield Middle and High Schools collectively 164 students over capacity, with Windsor Elementary being the most impacted, said Ring.

To understand the countywide scope of the impact, Ring explained that there were 13 developments approved since 2016, some of which are completed while others have yet to begin construction. These developments include 1,844 single-family units and 970 multi-family units, which equates to an additional 972 students entering the county’s schools, according to Ring. This influx of students causes concern, because some of the county’s schools are close to or over their capacity already, according to figures provided in Ring’s presentation.

If all 13 of the developments in the northern end of the county were to be completed or if any more were to be added, it is estimated that most of the schools would be over capacity and new outdoor trailers or school expansion projects would need to be completed, according to the Ring’s presentation.

Already, Isle of Wight County schools Superintendent Dr. Jim Thornton has requested trailers at Westside and Carrollton elementary schools over the next two years to accommodate the additional students. 

Isle of Wight School Board Chairperson Vicky Hulick pointed out during the presentation that the previous estimates provided for the number of students coming from the Benn’s Grant development were unexpectedly lower than what ended up being the case, increasing the impact on the schools. Ring stated that this could be the same for other future developments, as the cash proffer study results are now six years old. Ring also encouraged that a new study be conducted.

To reduce the negative impacts these developments could have on public services, such as the schools, Ring said development applicants can voluntarily offer a proffer, which typically includes capital improvements, such as transportation, parks or utilities services, or cash to go towards increasing public service capacities, such as at the schools. However, due to recent changes enacted by the General Assembly, localities can no longer suggest or negotiate for proffers with development applicants, so these offers are not always included, making the county responsible for financially counteracting negative impacts, according to Ring.

It is recommended that in order to limit future impacts, collaboration between planning and zoning and the schools should continue when discussing land use applications and when drafting capital improvement plans and county comprehensive plans. The school system is currently exploring what should be done to limit over-crowding through its strategic planning process, according to Ring. No firm recommendations will be made until more data is collected and public input is heard. {/mprestriction}