CHRISTIANSBURG — Christiansburg Town Council approved requests on Tuesday night that will allow Montgomery County Public Schools to move its bus maintenance operations to the old middle school facility on College Street.
One of the requests, which passed on a 5-1 vote, involved moving the approximately 16-acre site from a residential to business district that allows public schools and specifically commercial garages. Council, on a 5-1 vote, also approved a conditional use permit, which was needed for a commercial garage and contractor storage yard.
MCPS currently keeps its buses at the old middle school site, but performs maintenance on the vehicles at another facility on Cambria Street. The district currently has 126 buses.
School officials have deemed the Cambria site no longer suitable for the repair of their bus fleet. For example, the Cambria facility isn’t large enough to have a lift, school officials have said.
School officials say the plan is currently the most cost-effective and feasible option for the needs of its fleet. They also say the matter financially impacts when they can complete the long-awaited renovation of Christiansburg High School.
A few council members and nearby residents, however, have raised concerns about the project adversely affecting the surrounding neighborhoods and possibly taking away future development opportunities in downtown Christiansburg.
Councilman Steve Huppert, who voted in favor of the district’s requests, reiterated concerns about the project impacting the already limited availability of land that can be developed.
If the bus is moved, “We’re just saying there’s no way to develop that area around the [old] Christiansburg Middle School,” he said. “I have some real conflicts here. If we’re doing the right thing for the long haul down the road.”
Councilwoman Johana Hicks, who voted against the requests, said the town’s comprehensive plan, while several years old, doesn’t call for a commercial bus garage in that area of town.
The plan tries to “figure out what we want the town to look like in the near future,” she said. “If this was in Blacksburg, it would never pass.”
In response, school officials have said the district has no other more feasible options for its fleet maintenance and no plans in the immediate future to sell the old middle school property.
Additionally, school officials have said that building a new maintenance facility would delay plans to renovate Christiansburg High Sschool due to them needing to dip into funds for the future high school project to cover the cost of a new garage — something the district projects will cost upwards of $6 million.
On the other hand, the conversion of the old middle school gym for maintenance purposes will cost about $1 million, according to MCPS.
The old gym has room for multiple lifts and additional bay, which allow for more efficiency in the repair of the bus and vehicle fleet, school officials say.
MCPS Assistant Superintendent of Operations Tommy Kranz also addressed concerns about the presence of buses creating an eyesore. He told council members on Tuesday that many buses are kept at the schools themselves during the school year.
“We don’t have 130 buses, other than in the summer,” he said.
While he voted in favor of the requests, Councilman Brad Stipes said he didn’t like the points the district made about the project potentially impacting the CHS renovation timeline.
“I didn’t appreciate the … ‘we need to do this or else we don’t have money for schools. I sort of didn’t like the tie into the funding for schools,” Stipes said.
Still, Stipes described the project as a logical use of the property. He also voiced appreciation for the measures that will be put in place to protect the view of the property.
“I do think in this case the pros outweigh the cons,” he said.
MCPS refers to its old middle school site as the Operations Center. The site currently houses the district’s facilities, technology, warehouse, print shop, school nutrition and transportation departments, all of which have been at the property for more than a year.