Veritas School, which moved to Brook Road between Westwood and Palmyra avenues in 2013, is in the midst of an expansion that will eventually transform an older Richmond neighborhood that already is in transition.
Veritas, which describes itself as a classical Christian school, recently bought an adjacent piece of property, and it is expanding classrooms into a third building on its campus.
As that happens, Union Presbyterian Seminary is getting ready to start construction on a 301-unit apartment complex on 15 acres on the corner of Brook Road between Westwood and Rennie avenues.
The two developments, one which looks to restore a piece of property close to its original form and the other which will boost the population of a quiet residential community, are very different and will affect the area in separate ways. But they are, in a way, intertwined because of their timing and their potential to change the neighborhood.
“We think our presence here will help preserve important historical buildings and help maintain life, and even bring life, into an important neighborhood,” said Keith Nix, Veritas’ head of school.
“I would hope Veritas is a blessing to the neighborhood,” he said later. “We hope that families who don’t directly benefit from Veritas see it as a real positive impact on the North Side and Richmond, that the kinds of human beings graduating from here are contributors.”
The bigger and more controversial project is the apartment complex.
Neighbors have complained that the complex will change the character of the neighborhood, bringing in density and traffic. Some worry that it will also bring some of the commercialization of nearby Chamberlayne Avenue, spoiling the area’s charm.
The seminary and Bristol Development Group, which will develop the complex, have entered into an official agreement, and demolition is expected to begin early this year, Union said.
The construction will begin later this year and be completed in phases, with apartments becoming available next January and the final build-out wrapping up the next month, said Mike Frontiero, director of communications for Union.
The development will cost about $50 million, he said.
The school plans to initially rent about 20 of the apartment units to Union students and their families. The rest will be rented to the public, with income from those rentals subsidizing the cost of leasing units to Union students, the school has said.
The apartments will take up about half of a 34-acre parcel that has long been green space for the community. The loss of this space, along with the added density, is one of the reasons some neighbors are upset and why they argued for the city not to grant the seminary the necessary permits.
“I think there is great appreciation for that space,” said Elizabeth S. Kostelny, who lives nearby on Loxely Road. “It’s been used by a broad range of the community over the years. And I think what gets lost in some of the controversy is that the neighborhood has felt that the seminary has been generous in maintaining that space.”
Still at issue is what will happen to the additional 19 acres, which includes the historic McGuire House. The seminary has committed to the neighborhood to not develop the acreage for at least three years, Frontiero said.
Veritas has expressed interest in buying the remaining property if it becomes available.
For its part, Veritas is leasing three buildings from Union, in addition to the two buildings Veritas owns. The leased buildings include the future home of Dubose Hall, where it will move upper-school students beginning next school year. A second of those leased buildings, Lingle Hall, is used for classroom space, student commons and the school’s gym.
The third houses the school’s prekindergarten program.
Moving the older students into their own building is part of the 16-year-old school’s plan to expand its student body and educational offerings. Nix said the school is hoping to increase its enrollment over the next several years to about 650, from the roughly 440 it has now. This will be a deliberative process that will allow the number of students to grow organically, according to the school.
As part of its plans to grow, Veritas recently bought the Laburnum House property, once the home of Richmond Memorial Hospital and Nursing School and currently seen on “Mercy Street,” a Civil War drama on PBS.
The private school paid $1.45 million for the property, which was owned by Stan-Corp Mortgage Investors of Oregon.
Laburnum House — made up of four interconnected buildings, including the original 15,450-square-foot Laburnum House mansion — will be the centerpiece of a development that will expand the school’s existing footprint.
The 19-acre site will eventually be transformed into mostly green space, with all but the original mansion torn down and the property’s existing parking lot covered.
Lamont Street, a small alley running behind the school’s existing main building and connecting Westwood and Palmyra avenues, will be mostly closed off, and a small parking lot will take up a small corner. The school’s two properties, in essence, will become one contiguous campus.
The spacious — and largely intact — first floor of the Laburnum House, built in 1908 by the Joseph Bryan family and donated to the city in 1947 for the hospital, will eventually be used for meeting space and events, and the second floor will be used for administrative offices. No decision has been made for the third floor, though Nix believes it can serve as temporary housing or some similar use.
The project will cost an estimated $5 million.
“And the difference $5 million can make? I mean, $5 million over there could take that big, massive asphalt expanse and it could be beautiful,” Nix said.
At some point, the school would like to build a performing arts center on the property that could be used both by the school and the community, he said.
When work on the new property will begin is unclear.
The mansion has been used for the filming of “Mercy Street,” and there’s an agreement in place with the show’s producers to allow them to use the house for a second season. The house has not been restored to its pre-filming state in anticipation of more filming.
A 27,000-square-foot section of the property will continue to be used by the Zacharias Ganey Health Institute, which has two years remaining on its lease with a five-year option when that expires.