The Leesburg Town Council has given the green light to a special exception request that will transform the former C.S. Monroe Technology Center campus.
By unanimous consent, the council approved plans for The North Star School, which will become the new home of Loudoun County Public Schools’ Alternative Education Program, currently housed at the Douglass School. North Star will also provide daytime and evening adult education programming.
The 10-acre site at the intersection of Catoctin Circle and Childrens Center Road was the home of Monroe Tech for 40 years before it moved to the Academies of Loudoun campus last fall. According to a staff report, school district administrators are proposing to demolish the 1977 Monroe Tech building and construct a two-story, almost 95,000-square-foot building that could accommodate 570 students.
Special exception approval was needed for the project because of a 2003 Zoning Ordinance change that required special review for schools in a residential zoning district. The property’s prior use as a school does not supersede that requirement.
Addressing a concern voiced by the majority of speakers during Tuesday’s public hearing, Sara Howard-O’Brien, land management supervisor for LCPS, said school planning staff planned parking based on the “worst-case scenario.” Full enrollment at the school is not anticipated initially, and she noted that the majority of current students that attend the Alternative Education Program at Douglass use bus transportation, rather than driving themselves. The new school site will include 367 parking spaces and there are 15 spaces on the street.
Wild Turkey Way resident Jeffrey Vangilder questioned whether students would use the parking spaces on site, or be tempted instead to park on the neighborhood streets. He said there had previously been problems with on-street parking, as well as litter, when C.S. Monroe was still in operation.
“We have plenty of spaces built into this particular school site but the flaw in the logic is I’m not sure [students] … .are going to utilize those spaces. They may seek spaces that are free and unsupervised that just might happen to be in my neighborhood,” he said.
Bob Picarello, who lives across the street from the school, said, with the larger school, “fundamentally Childrens Center [Road] is changing dramatically.”
“We’re changing the way this neighborhood is with this school. It used to be morning to afternoon classes, then done. Now we’re adding evening classes and tripling the size of the enrollment of the school,” he said.
But council members said they trust the school system to be a good neighbor and address any concerns that arise. They also chose not to support a Planning Commission recommendation to waive parking fees for students at the school, with commissioners opining that perhaps that would negate any issues with students instead parking on street to avoid paying the fees. Council members instead said they did not feel comfortable dictating programmatic changes to the School Board in regards to parking fees.
“It’s well within both Loudoun County Public Schools and the Town of Leesburg to create conditions by which the students must adhere and which also serves to protect our neighborhoods, I think the town will work as hard as we can to protect the neighborhoods and work with the county,” Councilman Neil Steinberg said.
Councilman Ron Campbell said he would like to address the potential installation of residential parking permits in the neighborhood of the new school at a future meeting.
Howard-O’Brien said the school system anticipates the new school will be open for the 2020-21 school year, and hopes to begin demolition on the site shortly to meet the tight construction timeline.