Wednesday, April 11, 2012

As the abbey turns

Judge dismisses Benedictine case

The latest episode in the on-going soap opera centering on the efforts to move Benedictine Preparatory High School (BHP) to Goochland was a dud. On April 6, Goochland Circuit Court Judge Timothy K. Sanner dismissed a suit filed by opponents of the move on April 6.

All sides in the dispute claimed victory.

The judge ruled that it was not his job to grant preemptive relief for grievances that have not yet occurred. He dismissed the suit without prejudice, which gives BHP opponents the opportunity to resurrect the suit at some time in the future. Indeed, Sanner’s remarks were couched in terms that indicate he fully expects to have the parties before him at some time in the future. But not just yet.

Generating more heat than light, the contentious matter has been an on again off again proposition for more than four years.

To further muddy the waters, published reports indicate that the Archdiocese of Richmond has suggested that the Mary Mother of the Church Benedictine Abbey, the sponsoring organization of the school, reduce its connection with the school.

The monks that comprise the Abbey are declining in number and increasing in age and could soon be extinct. One of the stated reasons for the move in addition to providing room to eventually double the size of the cadet corps is to permit more daily interaction between monks and cadets.

Factions of BHP alumni, whose generosity pays the school’s bills, are divided about the appropriateness of the move.

Some neighbors of the Abbey are adamantly opposed to having BHP in their midst contending that River Road cannot handle the increased traffic. Then there are worries that the Abbey’s 10,000 gallons per day public water allocation cannot support the larger cadet corps. The facilities aged wastewater treatment system, which has violated DEQ discharge standards, raised environmental issues. The school says it has a handle on these issues.

Waiting in the wings of the drama rapidly becoming a farce is VDOT, the state agency whose motto is “oops!” The thread that the dismissed lawsuit hung on was that the site lacks adequate frontage on River Road to build necessary turn and deceleration lanes and has little hope of purchasing additional rights of way from adjoining parcels of land. Owners of that property are among those adamantly opposed to having a school in their midst.

The ball seems to be in the court of the county’s rudderless Department of Community Development, which is tasked with approving plans of development. Tussles there can be dealt with by the Board of Zoning Appeals and ultimately, the Board of Supervisors.

So, it seems that the cadets will not be starting school in Goochland this September. That’s about all that is certain at this point.

If the school stays on Sheppard Street and the Monks leave, the facility will still remain, literally, a white elephant on River Road. Given that the Abbey invested more than a million dollars a few years ago to build a large capacity state-of-the-art auditorium it will not just sit there.

Would a tax paying entity occupying the site be more palatable to the neighbors? Just how marketable is are the buildings and grounds? Lots of scenarios could unfold in the coming years even if BHP does not make the move.

After lots of public hearings and community meetings, we still don’t know what’s in this for the rest of Goochland.

Bringing a prestigious faith based private high school to Goochland is neither the nirvana claimed by its supporters nor the disaster predicted by its detractors.

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