Chesterfield County investing in new schools as enrollment increases

Chesterfield County
CCPS bus

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CHESTERFIELD COUNTY, Va. (WRIC) — With the last of Chesterfield County Public Schools’ (CCPS) bond-funded projects scheduled for completion this year, the school division is looking ahead to capital improvement plans for 2022 and beyond.

So far, six school projects approved by residents through the 2013 school bond referendum — which focuses on renovating or replacing older facilities in the County — have been completed. Reams Road and Ettrick Elementary Schools should be finished in 2021.

Superintendent Dr. Merv Daugherty’s proposed Capital Improvement Plan goes as far as 2028, totaling $579,799,700.

The proposal includes plans to rebuild A.M. Davis and Bensley Elementary Schools, as well as construct a new elementary school to serve the upper Magnolia Green community along Route 360.

(Photo: Chesterfield County)

The need for new school buildings comes from an overcrowding issue, which the school division is currently facing, according to CCPS Chief Operations Officer Josh Davis.

According to data presented to the Planning Commission at its Tuesday meeting, CCPS saw a significant increase in student enrollment from 2006 to 2010. That only escalated as the school division offered pre-K. CCPS reached an all-time high for student enrollment in 2020, with 62,565 students across dozens of buildings.

“Then came COVID, and so now we’ve had a hiccup. Our enrollment declined within K-12 education by about 1,500 students,” Davis said. “We expect a lot of them to come back. Our principals have tracked a lot of families that did some alternatives, whether it was private school or homeschooling, and they know that those families are going to start and they’ve begun to come back.”

(Photo: Chesterfield County)

Davis explained that the growth within the school division has prompted the use of trailers to supplement learning space.

“One of the functions that we’re also seeing is that things are getting pushed out into trailers when we have these additional activities. We’ve got a school that’s going to get four trailers and right now, they’ve got six full classrooms that are being used for things such as counseling, therapy for the special education students,” Davis said. “At least in that case, we want the trailers to be occupied by adults and students that visit them, maybe, on a regular basis, but not all day.”

With this in mind, Davis said that future schools should be built with higher capacities in mind.

“I think we’ll want to see more space in these buildings, the integration of more outdoor learning spaces and, perhaps, even two-story designs,” he said.

As CCPS welcomes more students back for in-person instruction, Davis said that learning in a post-COVID-19 world will be a consideration for construction, as well, so that schools might have enough room for social distancing.

“We believe the best education is provided face-to-face, and we’re really encouraging our families to send kids back. We know there are examples where there are some students, especially the older students, that, maybe, have thrived a bit more in the virtual environment,” Davis said. “Families are going to make those decisions. We want them back, face-to-face.”

Davis said that CCPS is going through requests for proposals for an architect for the next project.

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