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2017-09-13 / Featured / Front Page

Officials detail plans for new Matoaca school

BY JIM McCONNELL STAFF WRITER


The new Matoaca Elementary will be constructed on the site of Matoaca Middle School’s west campus. 
JAMES HASKINS The new Matoaca Elementary will be constructed on the site of Matoaca Middle School’s west campus. JAMES HASKINS School and county officials have looked far and wide over the past 18 months for a parcel suitable for construction of the new Matoaca Elementary School.

They finally found one, literally in their own backyard.

Chesterfield County Public Schools plans to build the new Matoaca Elementary on a Halloway Avenue parcel that is currently the site of Matoaca Middle School’s west campus.

Once the elementary school is finished – its projected opening date is between January and September 2020 – the Matoaca Middle West building will be demolished to make room for the new school’s playground and athletic fields.

That will necessitate consolidating students from Matoaca’s two middle schools at the east campus, part of a five-phase plan to eventually replace the existing 55-year-old building with a new middle school.

“We’re trying to be strategic in the way we do these schools,” said Rob Thompson, who represents the Matoaca District on the School Board, during a parent meeting last week at Matoaca Middle East.

A replacement for Matoaca Elementary was one of the school construction projects approved by Chesterfield voters in a 2013 bond referendum.

The $304 million referendum was touted as an opportunity to revitalize several of the county’s aging schools and use them to spur investment in their surrounding neighborhoods. The school system will build at least four elementary schools – replacements for Matoaca, Enon and Beulah, as well as a new school in Midlothian to relieve overcrowding at nearby J.B. Watkins – with proceeds from the bond sale.

While work has begun at the Beulah and Enon sites, and the school system has acquired property for the new Midlothian school, finding an adequate parcel in Matoaca has been a tricky proposition.

Thompson acknowledged that when he was elected to the School Board in November 2015, he assumed it would be easy to identify and secure a new school site in a part of the county with large swaths of undeveloped land.

School and county officials have looked at 38 different parcels in Matoaca and negotiated to purchase three. They couldn’t come to terms with owners of the first two properties, and the third was deemed unsuitable when school construction staff identified far more significant wetlands than was originally anticipated.

“We were hopeful of keeping the school somewhere on River Road,” Thompson said. “We looked all the way to Hickory [Road], but we didn’t want to go any farther [north] than that.”

With site acquisition problems threatening to delay construction of the new Matoaca Elementary by more than a year, School Board members coalesced recently behind the idea of building the school on the Matoaca Middle West property.

School officials now are hopeful the new 750-seat elementary school will be ready to open in January 2020, which would be six months later than originally anticipated. In their worst-case projection, the building will be finished by September 2020.

“This is for sure, right?” asked a woman at last week’s community meeting. “We’ve been here for three different meetings and I’ve gotten my hopes up every time.”

Replied Thompson: “We know it’s a good site because we already own it.”

When another citizen inquired about the county’s plans for the 80-year-old Matoaca Elementary building once the replacement school has been built, Matoaca Supervisor Steve Elswick said “no decisions have been made” in that regard.

“We’ve had conversations about what we’re going to do with the old schools,” he added. “I don’t know that we’d keep the entire school, but we’d like to keep part of it.” ¦

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