By Michael Alison Chandler
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, November 8, 2007
After a growing drumbeat for more schools near Lovettsville, residents near the western Loudoun town are a step closer to having a middle school and a high school in their neighborhood. But they are torn over how nearby they want the schools to be.
The Loudoun County School Board voted last month to terminate its $4 million contract for a 104-acre property more than five miles south of Lovettsville, citing lack of support for the proposed middle and elementary schools from the county planning department and neighbors in the mostly agricultural area. The contract's defeat signaled hope for parents who want to see a school constructed farther north.
Lovettsville area residents gathered at the community center last week to comment on a 156-acre site, known as the Miller property, being considered by school system officials as a location for a high school and a middle school. But the residents clashed over the suitability of the location.
"The Miller property is the wrong place to put a high school," said 14-year resident David Pritchard at the meeting. Putting a school in the center of town would "open a can of worms you wish you had never seen," he said.
Concerns about traffic and light pollution loom large in a town of 1,100 people. The middle and high schools together would generate about 5,000 vehicle trips per day, said Sam C. Adamo, director of planning and legislative services for Loudoun schools. The road network probably could not handle the traffic, he said, and new access roads probably would require the purchase, or possibly the condemnation, of private land.
"There are going to be some tough issues in looking at Lovettsville," Adamo said.
To address the issues, Adamo said, he hopes the Loudoun County Board of Supervisors and the Lovettsville Town Council pass resolutions pledging commitment to the project, though it may be costly or controversial.
Many residents at the meeting said they are ready to make the sacrifice after years of putting their children on school buses for hour-long commutes.
Valerie Yost, a Lovettsville parent and a teacher at Leesburg Elementary School, said she was excited about the idea of having a high school in town. "I view it as a center of a community," she said, with Boy Scout meetings and maybe a pool.
The Miller property has some limitations, school planners say. About 84 acres of the site are usable, not enough land to build a high school as well as a middle school. So officials have suggested using some land next door that has been designated for a park or flipping the sites, so that the park would be used for the schools and the Miller property turned into a park.
Several people spoke against building on park land.
"We voted for a park. We didn't vote to put a school on park land," said Norma Wilson, a Lovettsville resident who lives next to the park site and said she helped get a bond passed to purchase land for the park three years ago.
The high school is scheduled to open in 2017 and would be the third in western Loudoun. A $15.5 million bond referendum to purchase land for the school was included on Tuesday's election ballot. The middle school is scheduled to open in 2015.
Many at Thursday's meeting referred to a list of about 15 sites north of Route 9 that have been considered for the schools, hoping that one of the locations would spell compromise.
But Adamo said several of the sites on the list, which was created by his office, have been eliminated for various reasons. Some sites were ruled out because they are not in or adjacent to towns, a priority spelled out in the county's general plan. That was the reason that the property south of Lovettsville lacked approval from county planners.
Robert Grubb, the owner of the property in Wheatland, had his land under contract for 1 1/2 years and sat through a few heated community meetings before the deal fell through. He said he had hoped it would work out but never counted on it.
"Now, I will have to put it on the market for other purposes . . . for McMansions to be built perhaps," he said.