A decision to put a high school in a place with no existing sewer lines, with country roads with no curbs or shoulders and with water with trace amounts of radium has left Boone County officials and utility providers wondering how to meet the demands the proposed school would create.
Superintendent Phyllis Chase and former assistant superintendent Chris Mallory, who is acting as a consultant to the district on land acquisitions, met with Boone County Presiding Commissioner Ken Pearson today to begin conversations about what improvements need to be made before the school opens in 2010.
The meeting today was one of the first conversations the district has had with county representatives to discuss infrastructure needs.
“It was a preliminary conversation about the infrastructure needs of the new high school,” Pearson said. “There are significant issues that they will have to deal with.”
On June 21, the Columbia school board unanimously approved using an 80-acre tract at the southeast corner of New Haven and Rangeline roads for the district’s third main high school.
David Mink, director of the Boone County Public Works Department, said he wished the school district had contacted him before making the decision. Mink said the cost of improving roads that lead to the high school site would reach several million dollars and would have to be covered by taxpayers.
“I’m not sure if it’s the best approach to conducting business,” Mink said.
“I think it would have been prudent to have called all the affected agencies together and had some discussion, rather than just making a decision unilaterally.
“But we’re past that now, and we need to work together from here on out.”
Roads not on the list
New Haven and Rangeline roads are not on the county’s priority list for road work. Pearson said he told Chase and Mallory that improving the roads would be a major capital investment and that money for that work is not in the current county budget. It remains unknown how the burden of paying for the road projects would break down because the city, the county and the state have jurisdiction over various roads in the area.
“I told them, ‘Working on the roads is very expensive and we have to think in the context of the entire county,’” Pearson said.
Developers who increase traffic usually foot the bill for road improvements made necessary by their projects, Pearson said.
“But the school isn’t exactly a developer,” Pearson said. Because this was a preliminary discussion, “we didn’t get into any great detail (about cost issues).”
Chase said it is too early to discuss who would be responsible for covering the costs of improvement projects.
Then there are sewers
The challenge of extending sewer service to the site, which lies three miles east of the nearest Columbia city limit, is another concern.
Houses in the area have private sewer systems, such as lagoons or septic tanks. Pearson referred Chase and Mallory to Tom Ratermann, manager of Boone County Regional Sewer District, to discuss the option of having an on-site sewer system.
Ratermann said he hasn’t been contacted by any school district employee, but the engineering consultant who reviewed the site contacted him about possible sewer options for the high school. The district can either build a pump and connect to the nearest sewer line, at least 12,000 feet away, or it can build a wastewater treatment facility on site, he said.
Whatever the choice, the school district would be responsible for the cost, Ratermann said.
The school district site is within the boundaries of Public Water Supply District No. 9.
Roger Ballew, manager for the water district, said he has not been contacted about the expected water usage for the school, but he said that the water district’s facilities would meet the increased demand.
Trace amounts of radium found in Harg Well worry some residents, but Ballew said the water is drinkable.
“You’d have to drink two liters every day for 70 years to reach a maximum level of exposure,” Ballew said.
The water district has submitted construction plans to the Missouri Department of Natural Resources to build a treatment facility to remove the radium completely.
“The project has to be completed before Dec. 31, 2008, but we’d like to get it done as soon as we possibly can,” Ballew said. “I’m hoping to have it up and running by early next year.”
Ballew said the treatment facility has nothing to do with the high school; it would be built regardless of the school’s location.
One infrastructure need the school district should not have to worry about is electricity. Boone Electric Cooperative says there is an electric distribution line already on the property. Hooking a school up to electricity should be no problem, co-op spokeswoman Jessica Spencer said.