Land for new schools unused

WOODSTOCK – Shenandoah County supervisors jumped at the chance to buy land for new schools in 2009.

But that 70 acres, bought for $2.6 million seven years ago, remains unused and apparently not under consideration as the school division deals with space needs. Meanwhile, the School Board has employed a consultant to study the division’s space needs and come up with solutions for overcrowding.

The School Board will ask the Board of Supervisors for funds to cover the cost of creating a master plan for how best to use its facilities in the long term. School officials are scheduled to meet with the Board of Supervisors at 4 p.m. Thursday to discuss the funding request.

Superintendent Jeremy Raley said Wednesday that the 40-acre property the division owns near the central campus is not part of the discussion.

“At this point in time the School Board is not considering building a new facility,” Raley said. “I think it’s important to note that if the School Board would receive the funding for a long-term master plan for the use of our division facilities, that that does not necessarily mean that there would be capital building programs associated with that.

“There are many issues associated with a long-term master plan that do not necessarily include new buildings,” Raley added.

The instructional process has changed since the county’s school facilities were originally designed, Raley noted. School officials would need to ask if the facilities are prepared to handle instructional needs in the 21st century, he said. The division also needs to deal with its aging buildings, Raley added.

“We would need to look at that on a long-term perspective and determine what the best use of dollars would be in the future to make repairs and manage the ongoing maintenance associated with our facilities,” Raley said.

The long-term master plan might not consider new buildings. But the capital improvement plan approved recently by the School Board calls for the construction of two more schools, albeit years in the future.

The Board of Supervisors in February 2009 – after the economy began to sour – unanimously supported the purchase of 37.5 acres of land at Ox and Hoover roads just south of the central campus and 30 acres at the northern campus. Supervisors agreed to pay $1.87 million on the land near the central campus, $690,000 for property at the northern campus and $65,000 for preliminary site plan work at both campuses.

Raley’s predecessor, B. Keith Rowland, and the School Board had a lot of support in the community to buy the land. The Board of Supervisors that backed the purchase request included then District 4 Supervisor Sharon Baroncelli and District 5 Supervisor Dennis Morris. Cindy Bailey succeeded Baroncelli, who did not run for another term in 2013, and Marsha Shruntz unseated Morris. The board also included District 3 Supervisor David Ferguson, who lost a bid for a fourth term in the Nov. 3 election to Richard Walker, as well as District 1 Supervisor John R. “Dick” Neese, District 2 Supervisor Steve Baker and District 6 Supervisor Conrad Helsley. Baker and Helsley were re-elected Nov. 3.

The 2006 assessment put the value of the 37.5 acres purchased from Sallie Gochenour at $238,200, according to the deed on file in the Shenandoah County Circuit Court as well as information from the Commissioner of Revenue’s office. The county embarked on a reassessment in 2009 and in June that year the School Board paid exactly what the assessed value for the property would be effective January 2010 and almost eight times what the land was assessed at for 2006.

The latest assessment performed this year puts the value of the land at $3.24 million. However, the land is tax exempt and does not generate revenue. The land at Ox and Hoover roads, part of which lies in the Woodstock town limits, is zoned for residential use, according to information from county Zoning Administrator Joyce Fadeley. The county’s residential zoning allows school facilities on this property.

The land near the central campus comes with a catch.

“It is specifically understood and agreed that the real estate hereinabove conveyed shall be used for educational or other similar uses by Shenandoah County, Virginia, or the Commonwealth of Virginia, and this will be a deed covenant that will run with the land for 20 years from settlement,” the deed on file in the Shenandoah County Circuit Court states.

The deed does not appear to explain what shall occur should the county not develop the land for educational purposes by the time the 20-year window lapses.

Contact staff writer Alex Bridges at 540-465-5137 ext. 125, or abridges@nvdaily.com