COLUMBIA — This week, the site selection committee responsible for choosing a new elementary school in Columbia visited the northeast corridor to look at building sites.
They came away leaning toward two tentative favorites:
- St. Charles Road Development site, a 32-acre parcel just north of Battle High School.
- Landmark Bank site, 38.34 acres on Creasy Springs Road, not initially regarded as a favored site but later reconsidered.
Originally, eight proposed sites were on a list for the new school, expected to cost around $15 million and open in 2015.
The committee narrowed the list to their top four the St. Charles Road site; the Ajans site, 40 acres located across from Battle High School; the Jacobs property, 60 acres located off Route WW; and the Landmark Bank site, which was put back on the list during this week's visit.
“We need to look at the sites and discuss which ones we want,” said Pam Conway, chairwoman of the committee. “We need to see what properties best meet our needs.”
Distance is a serious consideration when looking at sites. Properties farther outside Columbia, like the St. Charles Road site, are not within walking distance of the neighborhoods students are likely to come from, which would mean longer bus rides.
Other issues involve the cost and construction-readiness of the property. Sites that are not “shovel-ready,” such as the Landmark Bank site, will cost more to construct than the St. Charles Road property, but the bank property is closer to the center of the city and easier for students to get to.
Location is also important when confronting the problem of overcrowding. Ideally, the new school will be located in an area that successfully draws students from the more overcrowded elementary schools, Conway said.
The committee agreed that Alpha Hart Lewis Elementary School was the top priority for relief from overcrowding, followed by Shepard Boulevard and West Boulevard elementary schools.
Conway said the other properties did not fit the needs of the district and were eliminated from the list of potential sites.
Because the elementary school is expected to open in 2014, the committee will have more time to evaluate sites.
Nick Boren, deputy superintendent of the school district, said that although the committee favored the St. Charles and Landmark sites, they were likely to expand their search to add more sites in the northeast quadrant of the district.
“We have some flexibility,” Boren said. “We have time.”
Conway said she hopes the committee will be able to finalize the top sites for the Columbia School Board by the end of spring.
The committee will meet again April 4 to further discuss the site selection.
Here is a rundown of the sites the committee visited this week.
ST. CHARLES ROAD SITE
- Size: 32 acres
- Land Cost: $1.5 million
- Location: Just north of the Battle High School site
If built here, the committee said an elementary school would likely draw most of its students from north of I-70, as well as from the southern boundary of the Alpha Hart Lewis Elementary School area and Cedar Ridge Elementary School.
Members raised concerns about the site being too far away to effectively meet the needs of the overcrowding problem and the distance being inconvenient for students.
The committee also expressed concern about the number of high school drivers that would be near the new elementary school.
Conway said the lack of shoulders along St. Charles Road was also worrisome.
LANDMARK BANK SITE
- Size: 38.34 acres
- Land Cost: $575,000
- Location: North Creasy Springs Road
One factor that drew committee members back to this site was location. It is closer to the city than the other favored sites and might meet the needs of the district better than other sites.
A concern is that the site is not shovel-ready, potentially requiring more money and time to build.
“Landmark was probably the most attractive piece of land we saw,” Conway said.
Still, some committee members noted the Landmark site did not offer the advantages of other sites, such as the possibility of shared funding with Battle High School or more construction-ready land.
- Size: 40 acres
- Land Cost: $300,000
- Location: St. Charles Road, directly across from the construction site of Battle High School
Although the property includes 40 acres of land, construction workers will not be able to build on nearly half of the land because of a buffer zone on the property that prevents construction near a local stream.
Charles Oestreich, director of facilities and construction services, said the stream buffer zone would have to be bridged to reach land farther back on the property.
“I hate building schools in a flood zone,” Oestreich said.
Another concern was the distance from the populated areas of the city, which would not effectively relieve overcrowding in the other elementary schools.
The Ajans property ended up a distant third on the committee's list.
- Size: 60 acres
- Land Cost: $1.5 million
- Location: Directly off state Route WW near Rangeline Road
The main concern with the Jacobs property site is lack of direct access from Rangeline and the need for a traffic light at the intersection of Route WW and Rangeline.
The committee decided that Jacobs was out of the running because it lacked two developed points of access for a school. The site would only offer one.