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Academy seeks again to relocate to Caroline

Posted on Thursday, May 30, 2013 at 3:02 pm

Abundant Life Academy wants a second crack at coming to Caroline County.

The academy, a Christian boarding school that caters to troubled teens, is currently located in Utah. It is seeking a special exception permit in order to operate a boarding school at the former Remuda Ranch site, which is located off Passing Road about seven miles east of Sparta.

The property, which is in the Bowling Green District, is owned by Beverly Run, a limited liability corporation controlled by Hanover County businessman A.D. Whittaker and others.

The application was submitted to the county’s department of planning community development by Charles Payne, an attorney representing Abundant Life Academy.

The academy requested an expedited review process because it wants to be open and running by September for the 2013-14 school year, Payne said in a letter accompanying the request.

The Board of Supervisors unanimously approved three zoning ordinance amendments in April to allow for boarding schools. The amendments define boarding schools, allow them in a rural preservation zoning district by a special exception permit, and establish standards for boarding schools.

The academy sought permission last year to relocate to Remuda Ranch. The Planning Commission recommended approving a special exception permit for the academy, but the Board of Supervisors voted twice by 4-2 to deny the permit.

Abundant Life Academy would have an initial enrollment of no more than 88 students, although that number could grow to 200, according to its application. It would offer typical high school activities for students, including team sports such as football, basketball, and soccer.

The academy would hire about 40 employees with annual salaries ranging from $21-110,000. It also submitted a list of about three dozen businesses in Bowling Green and Caroline that it expects to use as vendors.

It plans to make an investment of about $8 million worth of capital improvements to the property, which would generate additional real estate tax revenue to Caroline.

Abundant Life Academy is accredited by two organizations and would seek additional Virginia accreditations.

The academy also submitted an overview of its security plan indicating that it plans to install 140 surveillance cameras throughout the facility, indoors and outdoors.

It also submitted detailed information about how prospective students would be screened for admission.

Caroline Sheriff Tony Lippa reviewed the application and approved it with a few conditions. The school’s security program should be in place before children arrive, and crimes should be reported to the sheriff’s office, he said. He also recommended that the county be reimbursed for costs associated with finding or retrieving children who run away more than once, similar to a policy for responding to false alarms.

Lippa wrote that he had “no problems” provided that students are admitted to the academy based on its screening guidelines.

When the academy pursued coming to Caroline last year, some nearby residents expressed fears and concerns about runaway children.