Supervisors make decision on Hampden-Sydney expansion

Published 12:55 am Sunday, June 16, 2024

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Hampden-Sydney College took another step Tuesday toward expanding their shooting facility. By a unanimous vote in their June 11 meeting, the Prince Edward County Board of Supervisors agreed to amend the facility’s existing special use permit, to allow the development. Now the project goes for a final vote at the college itself. 

For those just joining us, this is in reference to the college’s facility operated at 7128 Farmville Road, on the old Slate Hill Plantation property. School officials want to make it easier to hold larger shooting competitions there, as well as other outdoor educational programs like archery, biking, cross country running and hiking. There will also be a nature trail built on the property and a lodge, set up as a compliment to the shooting ranges.

On the 251-acre piece of land, the goal is to use roughly 48 acres, said Andy Shield. Representing Hampden-Sydney in the presentation, Shield explained that he’s worked with the project since it got started. 

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“The objective is to upgrade the facilities, (to) have very competitive training facilities and have something that complements not only the college but opportunities in the county with regard to bringing (in) activities,” Shield told supervisors. 

Part of the goal is to help with recruiting. Shooting is a growing and competitive sport in NCAA athletics, one that Hampden-Sydney’s team is pretty good at. In 2023, the school finished fourth in the nation. In 2024, the school finished 24th. And it’s a program drawing interest at the school. According to Hampden-Sydney, for the current season, which started in the fall of 2023, there were 30 people who tried out for 12 spots on the squad. Also, shooting events organized in connection with Alumni Weekends, Parents Weekend and Homecoming have proven to be highly popular, school officials say. 

More about the Hampden-Sydney project 

The proposed expansion already went through the Prince Edward Planning Commission last month, which gave it unanimous approval. According to Prince Edward Planner Robert Love, the project has also been reviewed by the Virginia Department of Transportation. That had been a question at the planning commission, if the current road in and out of the property can handle the potential for expanded traffic. 

“VDOT said (the school) would have to upgrade their entrance,” Love said. “That is one of the conditions (of the application). (The school) will work with VDOT on a new commercial entrance.” 

As it stands, if approved, this project would be done in two phases. Phase one would involve expanding the shooting ranges. Once that’s finished, step two would involve building the lodge. And Love says in many ways, this would be just like assembling a new educational building. There will have to be building permits applied for, a zoning permit requested. If approved and construction begins, the county staff would be out during that portion, making sure everything is done up to code. 

To date, there haven’t been any problems with the shooting facility. There were no complaints over the last two years, about noise volume or anything else. In fact, Love said because of where it’s located, the shooting competitions are pretty muffled. 

To be clear, as mentioned before, this is a private project, so no county tax dollars go into it. The goal is to get donors to contribute the needed funds. And if the school doesn’t get the money needed from donors, the project doesn’t get built. As for an exact dollar figure, that hasn’t been presented yet. Breaking it into two parts is expected to make it easier to fund. 

A word of caution 

Both at the planning commission meeting and the one Tuesday for Prince Edward supervisors, surrounding property owners appeared to have their questions answered. Speaking on behalf of a neighboring property owner, a couple called in to say as long as conditions like the new road were followed, they had no issue with the concept. 

The one bit of opposition came from a Hampden-Sydney economics professor. Dr. Saranna Thornton said she had only just recently learned about the project from seeing something on Facebook. While not exactly against the project, she wanted to know more about it, asking how it would be funded, how much it would cost and the impact on county taxpayers. 

She also brought up past proposals by the university some 20 years ago that never came to fruition, cautioning people that this might not happen. 

But in the end, with little discussion, supervisors unanimously agreed to amend the permit and let the plan move forward. 

What’s next for Hampden-Sydney? 

As we mentioned before, Tuesday’s vote isn’t the final step. There’s still one more board that needs to weigh in on the project. That would be the Hampden-Sydney Board of Trustees, who are expected to take up the project at their next meeting. That’s where it’s expected a more detailed financial breakdown will take place. 

“We want this to be a positive for our students, but not only that,” said Ken Copeland. He works as Hampden-Sydney’s Vice President for Business Affairs. “A positive that will allow students and their fathers, their families, our alums to take advantage of this property. It’s an opportunity for an extended stay, to come and take advantage of the shooting facility.” 

School officials say if the trustees give approval and the donor funding comes in, construction could start on the new ranges this fall.