Imagine snakes and rats crawling out of a mosquito-infested pit just feet from where schoolchildren descend from buses every morning. That's what parents said could happen at Belmont Station Elementary School.
A long, three-to-four foot deep pit filled with indigenous, water-sopping plants in front of the new school was intended to meld form with function: it would capture runoff from the parking lot and school roof, as well as provide a hint of wildlife in the Belmont Greene subdivision just off Belmont Ridge Road in Ashburn. The plan called it "a rain garden." Parents called it "a ditch."
Supervisor Lori Waters (R-Broad Run) pointed out that a similar system at a Hamilton school has not caused much complaint, but was eager to act on the concern. Belmont Station is scheduled to open this fall.
"We have to act quickly," Waters said.
"YOU'RE LITERALLY TALKING about possibly having snakes at the school's front door," said Belmont Greene resident Stacy Chapman, who has two children attending Belmont Station in the fall. The ditch also worried her as a breeding ground for mosquitoes and possibly West Nile Virus, she added.
The school itself has a facade designed to blend with Belmont Greene's well-groomed streets. With its tin roof, columns and gables, the school will look similar to Countryside Elementary School.
A pit that would fill with water after heavy rains, presenting a drowning hazard to children, doesn't meld with that vision, according to Chapman. The pit itself, while only feet from the school's front door, is also only feet from townhouses across the street.
"There's no point is redesigning the front of the school for us because it's going to look nasty anyway," Chapman said.
PARENTS COMPLAINED to School Board member Bob Ohneiser, who concurred that the pit was not a good idea. According to Ohneiser, the main water management system is located behind the school, and most of the runoff could be directed there.
In order to "put an end to this silliness," Ohneiser said, the school staff is presenting a site plan adjustment request to the county. A final decision will be made by July 18, but what's expected is that the ditch will become a "swale," an indentation which will allow water, if it gathers, to flow.
Parents should be relieved, and Ohneiser is too. "To have something that's obviously dangerous on school property is just asking for trouble," Ohneiser said.