COLUMBIA — Columbia residents discussed on Monday concerns about flooding in connection with a proposed parking lot for Jefferson Junior High School.
"It's funny because this 13-space parking lot has generated a debate about the entire city water structure and biking to school, and it's brought up a lot of discussion," said Chris Belcher, superintendent of the Columbia School District. "We want to do everything we can, and at the same time we want to give parking to our parents."
The school district and the city of Columbia held a public forum at the school to discuss the proposed faculty parking lot, which would be on the northeast corner of Hickman Avenue and Sixth Street.
The lot would add 13 spaces to a lot that already exists on Hickman Avenue, just east of the proposed site.
The current faculty lot, which is adjacent to the school, would be turned into a lot for parents and visitors. The faculty would have to walk across the street to school, a trek they are willing to make for the safety of the students, Principal Gregery Caine said.
Dave Bennett, a consultant on the project, said the parking lot should be completed by November if existing plans are approved by the Columbia Public Works Department. Caine said the Columbia School Board would also have to approve the plans.
The lot would help to alleviate traffic at the school, Caine said. Parents who drop off and pick up their children have had trouble getting through the existing lot, and most resort to parking illegally on the street, he said.
About 25 people attended the meeting.
“Because of the situation where the stormwater and the sewer are connected in this town, we have a couple of issues, some of which, sadly, are no one person’s responsibility,” said Pat Fowler, who lives adjacent to the property where the lot would be built.
Fowler said the addition would create an open pathway for rainwater to gather momentum and overflow, leaving her and her neighbors’ houses vulnerable to flood damage.
Several community members expressed ideas on how to combat the issue.
Adam Saunders, a founder of the Columbia Center for Urban Agriculture, suggested that the plan include a rain garden of bald cypress trees. The rain garden would be in line with a city ordinance that would require a landscape buffer between the proposed lot and neighbors' yards.
Saunders said bald cypress trees are known for their ability to soak up excess water underground. According to the Arbor Day Foundation website, they are widely used in cities nationwide.
Bennett, the vice president of engineering for Engineering Survey and Services, LLC, said about half of the proposed lot would be pervious pavement. This would allow for stormwater to seep underground into the storm box in the northwest corner.
Without the proposed rain garden or pervious pavement, heavy rains could run over the parking lot and leak into nearby houses and basements.
“We’re excited about experimenting with the pervious pavement,” Belcher said.
Ian Thomas, the executive director of the PedNet Coalition, encouraged the school board to consider reducing demand for parking instead of increasing the number of spaces. PedNet has already worked with Smithton Middle School and West Junior High School to increase the number of children biking and walking to school.
“A much cheaper approach than building lots of new parking lots is to put in a fairly serious school program with bicycle education and work with the city to create safer routes to the school,” Thomas said. “This is an inner-city school. It was built in a time when most kids did walk or bike to school, and there’s no real reason they shouldn’t continue to do so in the future.”
John Clark, president of the North Central Columbia Neighborhood Association, recommended that the board look into sharing parking spots with Columbia College or encourage faculty carpooling to reduce demand for an additional parking lot.
Fowler said the meeting was a step in the right direction.
“This is the first time I’ve encountered anything like this,” Fowler said. “It took a lot of extra effort, but the number of people that showed up and the cooperation from the school district and the city is good, and I want this to continue.”
“The school’s trying to be a good neighbor,” said Shane Creech, supervising engineer for the Public Works Department.