Potential elementary school site selected

Appraisal is sought on 10 acres; developers will donate the rest.
Tuesday, July 10, 2007 | 2:00 a.m. CDT; updated 9:16 a.m. CDT, Friday, October 31, 2008

Twenty acres near Waco and Brown Station roads in northeast Columbia will be the likely site of another elementary school for Columbia Public Schools.

The district has entered into an agreement to buy property from Premier Land Holdings, LLC, which also owns nearby land where the Village of Arbor Point subdivision will be built.

The land the district is buying is on the property line between the subdivision and an adjacent development, Tuscany Ridge, said Perry Luetkemeyer, owner of Millbrooke Enterprises, which is developing Arbor Point.

Assistant superintendent Lynn Barnett said that the intended use for the land is yet to be formally determined but that the site would be appropriate for an elementary school.

“It is the size that we need that could be used for an elementary building, it’s near a neighborhood so it would be a good location for a neighborhood school, and it’s in the vicinity where certainly it could relieve some overcrowding situations at Derby Ridge, Blue Ridge and Parkade possibly,” Barnett said.

In April, voters approved a $60 million bond issue, which included plans to build a high school and an elementary school. Long-range plans include a second new elementary school. The first new elementary school is projected to open in fall 2009.

Half of the property will be jointly donated by Luetkemeyer and Tuscany Ridge developer Steve Herigon, Luetkemeyer said. The school district will purchase the other half after its appraiser determines the land’s value, which is estimated to be around $35,000 an acre. The district might amend the purchase price offered if the appraisal finds the land is worth less.

The district now has 45 days to conduct environmental studies on the property, including whether it’s feasible and desirable to put a school there, before the purchase is final.

“There will be engineering and architectural studies to look at the topography and look at how a school might be placed on the site,” Superintendent Phyllis Chase said. “They will then do environmental studies where they will take samples of the core of the earth to see if it is stable enough to sustain a building.”

One complication the district may encounter is getting road access to the property. Waco Road would likely be the main road leading to the site, but a project to extend Waco west from Brown Station Road to Oakland Gravel Road is not projected to be completed for three to five years, said Tim Teddy, planning director for the city.

“There’s been some design work on it by private developers, but it hasn’t been initiated as a project yet, and the city hasn’t appropriated funds,” Teddy said.

Factors such as the building of a subdivision and school may accelerate the process, Teddy said.

Elementary schools are needed nearly everywhere in the district, Chase said.

“Currently, with 154 modular units or trailers in Columbia Public Schools, wherever we build a new elementary school will probably be the right place,” Chase said.

Although several concerns were raised by citizens about the lack of public input on the site selected for the new high school, administrators say the district will not hold public hearings on purchase of land for the elementary school. To include the public in those decisions would increase the price of the land, Chase said.

“The moment you indicate where the land is going to be and you don’t have an option to purchase, the price doubles, triples, quadruples,” Chase said.

Barnett said the intended use of the 20 acres is still in preliminary stages. Once the land has been purchased, the Columbia School Board will likely take a vote on its use. But the next regularly scheduled meeting is not until September.

“Once it gets to the formal decision-making stage, the Board of Education will (take a vote) in open session is my expectation,” Barnett said.

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