Christiansburg Council Approves New Private School License | Education
CHRISTIANSBURG — The city is expected to soon see the addition of a private school focused on children who have been diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder or another developmental disability.
The school will be an extension of the Hughes Center, which is based in Danville and operates a residential treatment center and day school in that city. The center has a second satellite school in South Boston.
Hughes Center CEO Mark Howard told a recent Christiansburg City Council meeting that the city’s school will have a similar model to Danville’s. Another key point he highlighted is that a school in the area may negate the need for local children to be bused to other parts of the state to receive the additional support, a process that, according to him, can require journeys of more than one hour.
Howard said they reviewed Christiansburg and identified the town as an area of need.
When asked if any local students with special needs currently attend Montgomery County schools, Howard said that was a possibility. He said, however, that students generally attend another private day school that public school systems pay for with the help of Children’s Services Act funds.
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The Christiansburg school will be located in an existing 4,400 square foot facility at 1650 Cambria Street. The project recently cleared a major hurdle when city council unanimously approved a conditional use permit needed to authorize a private school in a business district. .
The permit vote was also notable for being an expedited measure.
The only school-related item on the May 24 city council agenda was a public hearing on the requested conditional use permit.
Councilman Henry Showalter pointed out that public hearing questions are normally subject to a two-week waiting period before being voted on to give citizens time to weigh in on the measures. He said the elected body had in the past been accused of sometimes playing favorites when it came to eliminating that waiting period, although he clarified that had not been a problem with the current city council.
Showalter and Councilman Sam Bishop each voted against a call to add the school permit vote to the May 24 agenda, with the former stressing the need to keep those terms level playing field across the board.
However, Mayor Mike Barber, who only votes in a tie, pointed out that the school is up against a two-and-a-half-month construction schedule.
“And you cut it pretty close,” Barber told Howard, who told the board that plans are for the program to begin in the fall and the facility needs to be prepared.
Most council members agreed to immediately add the permit vote to the agenda. The board, in another vote, unanimously approved the conditional use license.
Councilwoman Johana Hicks acknowledged the point raised by Showalter about the waiting period.
“But in this situation, I think, just like the mayor and the other members of the council, that it is important to move [on] that,” Hicks said.
As for the three-classroom school, Howard said they expect the program to begin with an enrollment of around eight to 10 students. He said the program should then reach a maximum enrollment of 28 students over the next three years.
Howard said the school seeks to serve Montgomery County and surrounding areas. He said they plan to employ around eight staff members.
City officials also clarified that the permit recently approved by council would only allow the operation of a day school and that no students will be housed in a residential setting on the property.