Smithfield planners OK special ed trailer

Published 5:45 pm Monday, August 15, 2022

Isle of Wight County Schools’ plan to move its special education department to a new modular office building is moving forward with the reluctant approval of Smithfield’s Planning Commission.

The school system had requested a site plan amendment for its central office, located behind Westside Elementary on West Main Street, that would allow for the proposed 2,077-square-foot metal trailer.

Commissioner Dr. Thomas Pope, though he acknowledged the department’s need for more space, argued at the commission’s Aug. 9 meeting that town approval would set a precedent that could lead to other metal trailers “not architecturally in keeping” with the rest of the town to “start popping up.”

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IWCS Director of Special Education Patricia Magner, however, contends that precedent has already been set. Her 11-member department is already housed in another trailer adjacent to the central office that’s about half the size of the one proposed.

“We’re in cubicles,” Magner said.

According to Todd Christiansen, the school system’s director of support services, the design of the proposed modular building has already been finalized. The existing special education trailer, he said, may also remain as additional storage space.

Chairman Charles Bryan agreed with Pope that it’s “really not an attractive building,” but acknowledged it’s outside of the town’s historic district and beyond the specified buffer around West Main Street where the town’s entrance corridor overlay design regulations would apply.

Commissioner Raynard Gibbs agreed with Bryan, but argued the school system’s need outweighed design considerations.

The Planning Commission ultimately voted unanimously to approve the requested site plan amendment.

“We know they need it,” Pope said.

Commissioners Michael Torrey, Michael Swecker and Randy Pack were absent, making the vote 4-0. At its July 12 meeting, the commission had also lacked three of its seven members and had postponed taking action on the advice of Town Attorney William Riddick, who at the time said the commission’s rules defined a quorum as a minimum of five members. Riddick, on Aug. 9, said he’d been mistaken and that the commission could take action with only four members.

According to IWCS spokeswoman Lynn Briggs, the new trailer will cost the school system $196,600. With the Planning Commission’s approval on record, IWCS is moving forward with the permitting and utilities process. 

According to Tammie Clary, the town’s community development and planning director, the Planning Commission has sole oversight over reviewing and approving site plan amendments, meaning the matter will not have to go to Smithfield’s Town Council for further approval.

A date for its arrival on site has not been set, as that is contingent on permitting and utilities, Briggs said.