Caroline may revisit academy for troubled teens
BY PORTSIA SMITH
The Christian boarding school for troubled teens that was denied approval by the Caroline County Board of Supervisors could get a second chance.
Abundant Life Academy officials, through an attorney, made a written request for supervisors to reconsider their vote on a special-use permit for the school, which wants to use the former Remuda Ranch off Passing Road near Sparta.
Under Robert’s Rules of Order, supervisors can reconsider their vote as long as one of the four members that denied it makes a motion at the next board meeting, which is Tuesday.
“We make this request because we believe the applicant will be a viable contributor to the community, and likewise generate significant tax revenue and new jobs for the county,” wrote Charlie Payne, an attorney with Hirschler Fleischer in Fredericksburg. “Further, the use is compatible with the deep rural character of the subject area, and will not impact surrounding property owners or the community.”
The school, described as a 12- to 18-month therapeutic program for teens who have begun to rebel, is based in St. George, Utah. It is also an accredited high school, which would initially enroll 33 students and has tentatively hired 17 local employees, Payne said.
He also estimated that the school would generate about $51,000 a year in county real estate taxes and significant personal property taxes.
Supervisor Jeff Sili, whose Bowling Green district includes the school property, and Western Caroline District Supervisor Jeff Black supported the permit.
“In meeting with the school officials some time ago, I was impressed with the entire structure of the academy and felt it was a perfect fit business-wise for Caroline County including their willingness to hire local people,” Sili said. “Anyone who voted against the project is free to bring it back up, and I hope they will choose to do so.”
Based on comments from some senior citizens and a petition signed by neighbors of the 346-acre property who were worried about their safety, supervisors Wayne Acors, Floyd Thomas, Reggie Underwood and Calvin Taylor voted to deny the school on Aug. 14.
Taylor of the Port Royal district said Saturday that it is possible the vote could be reconsidered “if they can address successfully the issues of security, violence and if someone does break out, will it be handled effectively.”
But if the vote is reversed, he said they would have to deal with unhappy residents.
“We have kind of assured those residents that the issue they were concerned about is gone,” he said. “Whether it is an issue or not, they think it is.”
Thomas, who made the motion to deny, said he has not received any new information that would warrant the board’s reconsideration.
“The reality of it is they should have done all of these things [to reassure the board] before we voted on the application,” he said. “And they failed to [successfully] answer any of the questions that the board members asked.”
At the last meeting after watching a four-minute presentation of what the school is about, Thomas said he thought the school has “an outstanding program, and I like the concept. I just think it’s in the wrong location.”
Today, Abundant Life officials will hold a public meeting at 4 p.m. at the property to answer any questions residents or county officials may have about the school. The meeting will be followed by a barbecue picnic.
Marcus Hamaker, director of operations for Abundant Life Academy, said at the Aug. 14 meeting that residents shouldn’t be worried because teens who would enroll aren’t dangerous.
“The kids that come in are suffering from emotional hurt, were adopted, broken kids, started hanging out with other kids and went sideways,” he said. “Not kids on crack or heroin.”
To be accepted, teens can’t have a violent history, can’t have attempted suicide or have been in a psychiatric ward and can’t have been incarcerated.
He said they have been in talks with vendors for security cameras and other equipment for the property, which he said is a “perfect facility” for their school.
The Remuda Ranch property, assessed by the county at $7.2 million, has been vacant since the eating-disorder treatment facility closed in March 2011. It had employed 73 people.
Caroline Sheriff Tony Lippa, who said he was not opposed to the school, but initially had some safety concerns, wrote in a letter to Board Chairman Acors on Wednesday that the issues he had have been addressed.
“I have visited the property and they have supplied me with materials that addressed all my concerns which were raised at the Aug. 14 BOS meeting,” Lippa wrote. “However in the interest of public safety, I would strongly recommend that no students arrive prior to their security system being up and running.”
Tuesday’s Board of Supervisors meeting starts at 6 p.m. at the Community Services Center.
Portsia Smith: 540/374-5419