Historic school renovation project in New Kent on hold

NEW KENT COUNTY, Va. (WRIC) — Plans to transform the historic 1930s school in New Kent into a community center and library have been put on hold amid concerns over the cost of the project.

According to the New Kent County website, renovations to the school located at 11825 New Kent Highway were expected to begin this spring.

However, the community center concept is on the backburner and the Board of Supervisors is considering using the space to meet the expanding needs of county government in Virginia’s fastest-growing county, instead.

A separate proposal to build a community center in Varina, on the county’s eastern end, is also being considered as the board looks to reduce a proposed real estate tax increase in the fiscal year 2025 budget.

In September, Andrew Smulick of Moseley Architects presented plans for the historic school that included community classrooms, a community library and a performing arts space.

On March 19, County Administrator Rodney Hathaway informed the board that the proposal was “over budget.”

There has been debate on whether or not we should build an office building instead of a community center. He stated. “I’ve put that project on hold while we figure out what this building should be focused on.”

According to him, the county has already borrowed $7 million to pay for the upgrades. The community center concept comes with a $13 million price tag.

Board Chairman Thomas Evelyn said “space is an issue and this would be the quickest thing versus a $20-$30 million new administration building.” He suggested that the school’s gym could serve as a community use.

The community center blueprint aimed to tell the story of the historic school, the former New Kent School.

The 1968 Green v. County School Board of New Kent case, regarded as the more significant integration case decision by the U.S. Supreme Court after Brown v. Board of Education, is connected to the New Kent School and the adjacent George W. Watkins School.

Hathaway, at the March 19 meeting, defended the Varina community center proposal.

“Yes, we need a community center on the east end but … we need a voting precinct on the east end. We don’t have one. We’re using a space that’s currently on the market to lease. When it’s leased, we won’t have a space … I’m at a loss right now to find a suitable alternative location in that area,” he said.

The Varina Community Center is estimated to cost $6 million.

The board is expected to discuss both projects further at its next meeting on April 4, 2024.

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