In a far-flung suburban environment like the 455 square miles of Chesterfield County, a sense of community is focused on neighborhood schools. And as schools and their surrounding neighborhoods begin to show their age, there’s a need to reinvigorate and revitalize the community with some sprucing up and renovations. That’s where Carl Schlaudt comes in.
Carl Schlaudt at Manchester Middle School, a focal point of the community revitalization effort in Chesterfield County. (Photo by Jay Paul)
He’s the revitalization manager for Chesterfield County’s Community Development Office, which seeks to revitalize and maintain the older schools and neighborhoods in the county.
“The concentration of the rejuvenate effort is to make a big splash in a smaller area,” says Schlaudt.
This approach identifies schools as the heart of communities, and stems from the 2013 bond referendum that approved $304 million in improvement projects. There are 11 schools listed on the county’s Community Revitalization website, with nine of the schools targeted for revitalization efforts: Providence Middle, Manchester Middle, Beulah Elementary, Crestwood Elementary, Enon Elementary, Ettrick Elementary, Harrowgate Elementary, Matoaca Elementary and Reams Elementary. A new Midlothian-area elementary school is being built to relieve overcrowding at Watkins Elementary. Surrounding neighborhoods are being improved in tandem with the schools. Improvements include new sidewalks, park spaces, drainage systems and the alleviation of blight.
Three schools top Schlaudt’s list: Providence Middle, Manchester Middle and Beulah Elementary.
According to Chesterfield County, the revitalization strategy also seeks to eliminate blighted areas along the Jefferson Davis corridor, the Village of Ettrick and the eastern part of Midlothian Turnpike, to restore communities showing early signs of blight to full health and prevent deterioration of other older county neighborhoods, business areas and communities. The special plan for Ettrick has been adopted recently, the Jefferson Davis plan is going through public comment sessions and the Eastern Midlothian plan does not have a timeline yet. Each of these districts benefits in some way from the revitalization efforts concerning schools.
The projects are identified on the county government website (chesterfield.gov/projectareasmap), which also provides details on individual projects, including cost, estimated completion and subdivisions that will be improved along with the schools.
“There is a theory we call parity, and the idea is [that] schools in older areas should be as good as schools in other parts of the county,” says Schlaudt. “I am here to help the bond referendum for Chesterfield put its money where its mouth is. We should not forget other areas. Communities are important.”
In the neighborhoods, two cross-trained inspectors assess homes for code compliance. Inspectors look for violations such as missing downspouts on gutters, yards full of junk and rubbish, and boats or recreational vehicles illegally parked in front of a home. The idea is to inspire residents to complete improvements on their own.
An office of one Schlaudt moved to Virginia from California in 2000 to work with Chesterfield’s planning department. He’s held a variety of positions in the department, including working with comprehensive subdivision review and zoning review, and generally improving communication with the public.
He’s an office of one. Funding varies each year, dispersed among budget sources and applied through the bond referendum. This is not to say Schlaudt works alone; in fact, his years of experience in Chesterfield help him to identify issues and work with various offices and entities.
“I have relationships with all of the community development offices and community policing offices,” says Schlaudt.
“I am working on a relationship with social services, and I work with the Sustain Our Communities Committee, which represents nine parts of the county. I work with community partnerships such as homeowners associations and constantly look for resources and ideas.”
Adam Kennedy, executive director of Swim RVA and a board member for the Chesterfield Chamber of Commerce says that attracting business is one of the goals of his group’s collaboration with Schlaudt.
“Carl is one of my favorite people in Chesterfield,” says Kennedy. “Carl thinks creatively and differently and tries to solve the problem. Carl is constantly trying to learn from the past, but find new ways to approach the issue.”
Schlaudt says magic happens where ideas, opportunities and resources meet. He says he has the perspective to accomplish things because of his unique position and experience, allowing him to identify each of the magical ingredients.
He is always seeking new tools to use on the job. He has continued to improve his skill set. He’s become accredited by the American Institute of Certified Planners and has done graduate work at Virginia Commonwealth University. When Schlaudt finds spare time, he enjoys reading action/adventure novels by authors like Tom Clancy and going on walks. He’s also a guitarist. He has been playing since he was 13 and plays acoustic and electric guitar at his church, Christ Church Anglican in Midlothian.
Laura Lafayette, chief executive officer of the Richmond Association of Realtors, has known Schlaudt for a few years.
“So much of what goes right with our region is due to public officials’ efforts, and they never get the kudos,” says Lafayette. “Carl is one of those unsung heroes.”
Her association represents the interests of the real estate community to the government bodies of Chesterfield.
“When you have neighborhoods that were built in the 1950s, ’60s, even the ’70s and ’80s, you’re going to have some wear and tear,” says Lafayette. “The other thing about suburban ring neighborhoods is they don’t necessarily have sidewalks or streetlights or parks. It is important that Carl succeed in these older neighborhoods so they can be preserved and remain attractive to the next generation.”
Schlaudt’s office in essence is planning for the things that could not have been planned for, changes that have occurred over time and have to be addressed.
“Right now, we are working through a strategy that I have helped develop since 2012,” says Schlaudt. “Some of the projects will take three years, but five years is more realistic for others. When we complete efforts in an older area, we might turn around and find that another area is facing similar problems as a result of time. Revitalization is a process that never ends.”