The Manassas Park School Board is moving forward with plans to build a new elementary school building.
The new building will replace Manassas Park Elementary School, on Tremont Street in the western end of the city, and houses pre-kindergarten, fourth- and fifth-grade students.
The board voted this week to move those three grades to the Cougar Elementary School site on Brandon Street in the eastern end of the city.
Originally, school officials planned to keep the pre-kindergarten facility at the Tremont Street site.
“We changed that plan because the city would like all of the school system’s acreage there,” Superintendent Thomas DeBolt said in a phone interview Wednesday.
The city’s Parks and Recreation facility has plans to expand Conner Park, which is next to the current Manassas Park Elementary School building, and to build a new recreation building there.
“Moving the pre-K program helps the city build a better park,” DeBolt said.
In a work session Tuesday night, Mayor Frank Jones said he was originally opposed to the school moving out of the west end of the city. Cougar and Manassas Park elementary schools are about two miles apart and separated by Va. 28.
“I said please don’t do this because you’re going to create a rift in the community,” Jones said.
But since the school system wants to move the fourth and fifth grades to the Cougar site, Jones thinks they should move kindergarten as well, he said.
“I don’t see the benefit of putting the pre-K building in the west end,” Jones said. “You’re just going to tie up nine acres of land we could otherwise use for parks and rec. My preference is that if they’re going to take the school off-site, they should take all of it off.”
Catherine Morretta, director of the city’s parks and recreation department, agreed.
“I’d like to see the school vacated,” she said in the work session. “We could have worse neighbors. The school has been a good neighbor to us. But would we like the additional acres? Absolutely.”
As the plan stands now, when the new elementary building is completed, the current Cougar Elementary building will hold pre-kindergarten, kindergarten, first and second grades and a new building on the same site would hold grades three, four and five, DeBolt said.
During the work session, council member Fran Kassinger said she was opposed to any of the school leaving the western part of the city.
She said that research shows that schools leaving neighborhoods has a negative impact on the community.
“We need an educational center on the other side of the city,” Kassinger said in the work session. “Do not take a school building out of the neighborhood. I think it’s wrong.”
Morretta said the positive effect that a new recreation building will have on the community will offset any negative effect that the school leaving will have.
“It’s not unlike a school. The benefits don’t have a lot to do with the facility. It has to do with the programs coming out of it,” she said.
Morretta said the new recreation center will offer educational classes for adults and children in the community.
Jones said that like Kassinger he was originally concerned about the effect that the school leaving would have on the western part of the city.
“I’m well aware of that research. But the piece I was missing was the effect a robust parks and rec program can have on the community.”
The City Council will hold a public hearing on the first piece of funding for the elementary school project on Tuesday.
The School Board is asking for $7.5 million to begin design and early construction of the building, DeBolt said.