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Planning takes issue with Hardy fence

Isle of Wight’s Planning Commission gave its approval May 25 for the new Hardy Elementary that is to break ground in June — but took issue with the type of fencing proposed for the school.

The new Hardy will be built on land adjacent to the existing 1960s-era elementary school, which will allow the current Hardy to remain open while the new one is built. Construction is projected to be complete by the end of 2022.

The new school will be modeled after Florence Bowser Elementary in Suffolk and designed to a capacity of 950-975 students to relieve overcrowding in the current Hardy and at Carrollton Elementary. Last year, the county borrowed upwards of $34 million to fund the school replacement project and other capital needs.

Isle of Wight County Schools and the county’s utility services department had applied for a conditional use permit for roughly 17.9 acres located along Old Stage Highway currently zoned for rural agricultural conservation, which the Commission is recommending be approved.

School officials had also applied for an exemption to Isle of Wight’s Highway Corridor Overlay District regulations to permit a six-foot chain-link fence around the new school’s stormwater retention pond, mechanical service areas and a portion of the site perimeter that will fall within the HCO District — which the county’s planning staff is recommending be denied “in favor of a fencing style more compatible with the enhanced design standards found elsewhere in the district.”

Christopher Coleman, executive director of support services and operations for Isle of Wight County Schools, and Greg Hayes, a civil engineer whose firm is on RRMM Architects’ design team for Hardy, said the plan was to reuse some of the existing school’s chain-link fences and add black vinyl-coated chain-link fences in other areas. They estimated the fencing costs would run 30-50% higher if an aluminum fence modeled to look like wrought iron were to be used instead.

But Commissioner James Ford agreed with county staff concerns regarding the fence’s appearance, particularly as seen by residents of Blounts Corner Road.

“I think we need to have some due diligence in terms of what that looks like and what those people will see,” Ford said.

Commissioner Edward Hulick, however, said he’d prefer to see more of the project’s funding spent on the actual school building and less on the fence. Still, the vote to recommend approval of the school and water tower, but denial of the HCO exemption, was unanimous.

The matter will now head to Isle of Wight’s Board of Supervisors for a final vote.