Half of Cedar Ridge Elementary School’s classrooms are already in trailers, and several hundred more students could be on the way.
As Columbia City Council weighs the merits of developer Billy Sapp’s plan to build 1,800 homes east of the city, a Columbia Public School District deputy superintendent met with area residents Wednesday night to discuss the potential impact of the development on nearby Cedar Ridge.
“In five to seven years, I’m very optimistic that the (district’s long-range planning) committee can come together and get a plan scoped out,” said Deputy Superintendent Jacque Cowherd. He repeatedly stressed the district’s upcoming planning process, which started this week and could include plans to build a new elementary school. An outline of the committee’s plan is expected by fall.
In an interview before the meeting, La Shonda Boone, president of the El Chaparral Neighborhood Association, said that while they have not taken an official stance on the annexation, the neighborhood association would like to work more closely with the city and Cedar Ridge if the plan moves forward.
“There is a sentiment that the developers are going to do this without regard to our quality of life,” Boone said. “We would very much like to be a part of the process.”
Sapp’s spokesman Don Stamper was at the meeting and reiterated that much of the land to be annexed could actually be developed without the city’s approval, because some of it is already zoned to accommodate residential units. The reason they are seeking the city’s approval, he said, was to create a more efficient use of the property that would include significant green space.
Cowherd was invited by Boone to meet with residents to answer questions about the potential impact on the school. In an interview before the meeting, Cowherd said the projection for a 1,800-home development would add 900 children from kindergarten through high school, but he noted that such a figure is an extremely rough estimate.
Cowherd said that the district has set money aside for a new elementary school, which would require roughly 35 acres of flat land.
Wednesday’s meeting, sponsored by the El Chaparral Neighborhood Association, came after a similar forum last week at Cedar Ridge’s PTA meeting.
Cedar Ridge is the closest elementary school to the proposed annexation site and has 174 enrolled students, making it the smallest elementary school in Columbia. With such a high percentage of students in temporary buildings, residents worry the problem could become worse without a detailed contingency plan.
“Even if the population remains the same, this is a school that doesn’t have resources like other schools,” Boone said.
There are mixed feelings among the 1,000 El Chaparral neighborhood residents, Boone said, as to whether the school district should build another elementary school to complement Cedar Ridge, replace the school or simply expand it. Although the district’s most likely option might be to replace the school, “parents are very tied to our school,” said Cedar Ridge Principal Barbara Stratton.
“One thing that I like about our school is that it is small,” said PTA member Sherry Seiling, whose son is a fourth-grader at Cedar Ridge. “I came to find out how the Sapp development is going to affect the children here.”
Sapp has asked that the city annex and zone nearly 1,000 acres of land east of Cedar Ridge to accommodate his plans for a golf course and a mix of residential and commercial development on both sides of Route WW. Many local residents have opposed the plan, which they say would bring increased traffic and urban sprawl.
The council is scheduled to decide on the annexation proposal Feb. 7, but those plans might be delayed by a petition that Harg-area residents plan to submit in an attempt to thwart the voluntary annexation of Sapp’s land.