School’s safety hinges on design

Thursday, August 2, 2007 | 11:22 p.m. CDT; updated 9:52 a.m. CDT, Sunday, July 20, 2008

COLUMBIA-The site selected for Columbia’s third main high school is located nearly five miles from emergency services, and that distance has at least one Boone County commissioner worried.

“Some of the obvious problems would be if there are emergencies: a hostage situation, a fire, typical medical problems like the seizure of a child or a teacher,” said Skip Elkin, Northern District Boone County Commissioner. “Emergency services aren’t right around the corner.”

The 80-acre tract of land at Rangeline and New Haven roads lies three miles outside of Columbia city limits and five miles east of U.S. 63. The lack of sewer lines on the property and the quality of roads leading to the site have been other concerns raised previously. The property was half-donated and half-purchased for $500,000.

“Right now it is kind of a remote location; you have to add up all these costs,” Elkin said. “The land was at a reduced rate, but when you add up all costs are you coming out ahead? Is the community coming out ahead?”

Columbia Public Schools assistant superintendent Lynn Barnett said infrastructure would be lacking anywhere 100 acres of land was available. The administrators haven’t looked at each individual issue, Barnett said.

“We leave that to our planners and architects, and they will address those issues,” she said. “Those are some of the things they need to consider as they develop plans.”

Elkin also questioned whether the site’s water pressure could handle a fire safety sprinkler system.

He voiced his concerns Wednesday at a Boone County Planning and Building work session with Stan Shawver, the county’s director of planning and building.

“I know that at the present time, there is a limited (water) flow to the site,” Shawver said. “There’s about a 250 gallons-per-minute flow, and that is considered the bare minimum for residential construction in the county. Typically, you’re looking at fire flow for a commercial structure at 1,500 gallons per minute.”

Roger Ballew, manager of Public Water Supply District No. 9, said he didn’t have concerns about the site’s water pressure, but it was difficult to determine the challenges without seeing the school’s design.

“I haven’t seen any proposals on how the sprinkler system is going to be designed, the size of it, the distance it’s going to sit off the district’s main, and where they’re going to access it off the district’s main,” Ballew said. “So I can’t really say if (the water pressure) could or couldn’t (support a sprinkler system).”

Boone County Fire Protection District Division Chief Gale Blomenkamp said if the high school is built on the selected site, the building’s surrounding infrastructure will be up to code and firefighters will be able to adequately handle emergencies.

“We would service it just like any other part (of the county),” Blomenkamp said. “I do not see any increased need.”

Blomenkamp said he could not determine the amount of time it would take for emergency services to respond to the area without looking at call response data, which was not immediately available.

Elkin said the school district needs to consider all the obstacles.

“I hope the administrators and school board take the challenges and issues into consideration,” he said. “These are all real issues that have to be addressed. They can’t turn their heads on the issues.”

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