Trade School Seeking To Open In Buckingham At Former Lionheart Resort

Published 3:12 pm Tuesday, June 2, 2015

BUCKINGHAM — The owner of the former Lionheart Resorts in eastern Buckingham County wants to open a 24-hour trade school on 350 acres off New Dominion Lane.

Richard Kingswell, the property owner and president of Learning Independence & Necessary Knowledge, or LINK, has applied for a special use permit from the County to operate the Virginia Keys School of Technology.

The planning commission and board of supervisors must hold public hearings before deciding whether to approve the permit. During its most recent meeting, the planning commission set a 7 p.m. Monday, June 22, public hearing on the permit request.

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“Until recently, the … property was used as a RV/camping resort. The land itself is covered with trails, forest[s], and ponds. The property is already equipped for recreational uses, including basketball, baseball, hiking, mountain biking, and other outdoor activities,” according to the permit application.

According to the document, the property includes several buildings with a total of more than 25,000 square feet of space, which will be used as residential housing, classrooms and trade school workshops.

“The restaurant building will house the culinary arts program, dining hall, and the recreation room. The shop will be developed as vocational workshops for plumbing, electrical, and other building trades as the school grows.”

The buildings and recreational sites will also be improved and upgraded to fit growing needs as the school develops.

According to a school flier, “Virginia Keys is designed to teach and train students through a non-college track education program to be future workers who can obtain a living wage while working in their communities.”

The school seeks to enable students to gain a high school diploma while obtaining trade skills to a professional level in order for students to obtain credentials to present to future employers, notes the flier.

In an interview with The Herald, Kingswell said his mission with the new school is to create a trade school that students can call home.

“I didn’t feel that [it] was able to reach its full potential,” he said of the former resort, which opened about two years ago, and offered camping, event venues, a restaurant, and catering services. Even though the property is still open for events and camping, Kingswell says he’s now focused on the proposed school.

Part of his drive to establish the trade school comes from his work with foster children and what he cited as their frequent lack of skills and trades needed for life.

“Which keys would you like for your life?” Kingswell said, explaining the name of the proposed trade school. “Would you like a jail key? Would you like a house key? Would you like a car key? Or just be homeless and not have any key?”

Kingswell says the school will be for-profit.

During the May 26 planning commission meeting, Kingswell explained that he was seeking to start a trade school for children in “foster care or failing within the school system.”

Day students will be admitted to the program, he related.

Kingswell indicated that, in addition to trades, the school would offer math, English, geography and “whatever [else] they need to get through their high school diploma.”

Kingswell said the school would be co-educational, allowing both male and female students, and also noted the potential maximum number of students to be approximately 40.

Kingswell would like to see the students obtain their state trade certifications in their respective areas of study. “That would be a perfect goal for a two, two-and-a-half year program for that child,” he explained.

According to the application, the Virginia Keys School of Technology plans to open in September with between four and eight students, employing four teachers and two administrators, along with facility and office personnel.

“As the school continues to grow, we will maintain a very low student-to-teacher ratio. This low ratio … will provide jobs and support positions for the community. The school will be a day school and residential facility that will require 24-hour … staffing,” offered the permit application.

According to the flier, the school will serve youth between 14 and 18 years old at enrollment. “Students will be placed in co-educational groupings of like peers with the ability to stay in the school until they are 19.”

“While initially the aim is to educate the kids that come to the program for entry-level jobs,” said J. Robert Snoddy III, Kingswell’s attorney, “there’s nothing to say that the program can’t advance and also educate even further along and give them…a skill that can go with them a little bit farther than the actual first job … to a secondary position just based on what they’ve learned through the school.”