1st &

20

Friday February 26, 2021

By Craig Richards 

LNNUSA.com

PETERSBURG – The Appomattox Regional Governor’s School is in the game – and they are looking at First and Twenty. That’s 20 acres of city-owned property. And it’s the first-time council had heard of the plan – hence 1st and twenty. Of course, the 1st only applies if you exclude the Petersburg School Board meeting minutes from November 18th claiming an all-but-done deal - a full 21 days before most councilors even heard of it.

Petersburg City School Board Work Session meeting minutes from Wednesday November 18, 2020 Minutes, under New Business, recorded that Ward 7 Representative Mr. Adrian T. Dance, Sr., shared that at that meeting he had good news. He indicated that the City of Petersburg is planning to donate 20 acres of land located on the corner of Flank Road and Johnson Road. Once the property is acquired by the Governor’s School, they plan to use the property for soccer, flag-football and cross country, and the Untied States Marines are going to use some of the property for training purposes. Efforts to reach Mr. Dance for comment were unsuccessful.

Fast forward to City Council Meeting Tuesday December 8, 2020. Under the Mayors report a discussion come up as to the issue of the property.  Councilor Treska Wilson-Smith addressed a concern that “according to the minutes of the Petersburg School Board this City has apparently given 20 acres of land to the governor school.” Wilson-Smith questioned, “Did we do this, did we discuss this, and what is going on with it?”

Then City Manager Aretha Ferrell-Benavides explained that a request had come in but not yet put on the council’s agenda. Benavides went on to explain that it was a former athletic field. She stated that the attorney was aware. “No conveyance of land can occur without talking to you directly,” she said.

Councilor Wilson-Smith also questioned if it was on the list of city owned properties as she did not see it. Deputy City-Manager Lionel Lyons stated “No, it is not on that list as of right now.” Wilson-Smith went on to question if anyone knew how it got far enough for the school board member to claim the land. Only Ferrell-Benavides responded saying that, “… no commitments in writing or otherwise verbal have been made by my office or any member of my team regarding this action.”

In a letter obtained by LNN USA dated 2020 Appomattox Regional Governor’s School Executive Director Dr. Brendon L. Albon, wrote that he was following up on “several” conversations regarding the city-owned Flank Road Field, located at 1555 Flank Road. Dr. Albon discusses an initial conversation on October 7, 2020. He then goes on to discuss the proposed use of the field and makes a formal request for transfer of the property to ARGS. 

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In a phone interview Dr. Albon was asked why Dance had made the claims of having a commitment from the city for the property. He answered, “We have no signed documents at all… Nothing official… We have not come to an agreement yet.” He said a letter was sent to the City Attorney. He assumed it would be delivered to the entire council. But why was the letter only addressed to the Mayor and Councilor Myers? While Dr. Albon never confirms talking to Councilor Myers, he states that he spoke with the councilor that represents the Ward the ARGS falls in. “We had a conversation with the councilor (Myers). We did speak to him first and he brought the Mayor in and the Mayor asked us to write a formal letter to the entire city council,” Dr. Aldon said. Therefore, the letter was addressed to both of them.

Parham said the issue of the property will be discussed at the Tuesday March 2nd work session. Mayor Parham also stated that Councilor Howard Myers and he had casual conversations about the project. Ultimately, he said he asked Dr. Aldon to put through a formal letter to the city for consideration.  Mayor Parham also remains unclear as to why Dance would claim the city had agreed to the transfer of property. “I never made a claim to him (Dance). I told him we’d definitely explore that,” Parham Said.

In a phone interview Parham expressed his opinion. “Why would it not be a good idea if we aren’t putting any city resources into it,” Parham said. He believes it is an opportunity to provide 75 kids who go to the Governors School with access to an improved field. The city has several options with the property incusing leasing it to the school. When questioned about other alternatives Parham said, “And that’s why we have a meeting to discuss those things.”

Not every councilor is ready to donate the property to ARGS. Councilor Wilson-Smith said “I am not ready to donate prime real estate to any entity. If we turn it into a soccer field, it should be turned into a soccer field for all the children in the city.” She believes the field should be managed by the recreation department. She believes games for ARGS could be scheduled through the recreation department. This would allow for the school to have their own field and for the other city residents to retain access to the land.   

In either case the future of the property will be discussed at the Tuesday March 2nd meeting.

Craig Richards is the CEO of LNN USA and can be reached at CEO@LNNUSA.com

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