The Loudoun County School Board has initiated a process to seize land for a high school in Hamilton, the second time it has started such proceedings in a month.
The board voted Tuesday night to acquire 60 acres just east of the town on Business Route 7 owned by Neal C. Nichols. The school system must make Nichols one last offer, but if he does not accept, it can seize the land with compensation through its right of eminent domain.
Schools Planning Director Sam C. Adamo said the system has looked for a site in western Loudoun for more than two years, during which several other possibilities haven fallen through. He said school officials and Nichols have been unable to agree on a price for the land.
The school is scheduled to open in 2008 and is designed to relieve crowding at Loudoun Valley High School and Harmony Intermediate School.
School officials have warned for some time that they were running out of sites proffered by developers for schools. Rising prices have made looking for land increasingly difficult, and School Board members put the county supervisors on notice this summer that they would probably have to use their right to force owners to sell.
The school system continues to examine other options for a high school site, Adamo said, but needs to start condemnation proceedings to gain access to the Nichols property for surveys.
"We just want to determine the feasibility of this site," Adamo said. "Since we didn't have a cooperative landowner, we felt this was the only way to go."
Efforts to reach Nichols for comment were unsuccessful. County land records show he lives in Arlington.
The location of the new high school has been controversial. Many Hamilton residents oppose building a school on the eastern end of town because school bus traffic from Harmony, on the western end, already gums up Main Street.
Some have recommended building the school in Round Hill or Lovettsville instead.
Hamilton Mayor Keith Reasoner said traffic remains his overriding concern with the site, although with the School Board seemingly moving forward, he said he fears his Town Council will have little control over the process.
"They need to solve this transportation issue," he said. "How they're going to do that, I don't know. But, by golly, somebody's got to do something."
Reasoner said that the Town Council would probably discuss the school at its next meeting Nov. 8 and that the mayors of all the western towns may well take up the issue.
Adamo said the school system will conduct a traffic study to examine the effect of putting the school on Nichols's property and also examine what would happen if the school was built next to Harmony Intermediate, another proposal advanced by some residents.
Reasoner called such a study "five minutes late and a nickel short" but noted that his council might disagree with that view.