The expression, “thinking outside the box,” certainly applies to the site selection for the new high school. Let’s get beyond the intrigue of the secret deals, land speculation and increased taxes for previously unplanned roads and sewers.
Imagine a site for the new high school that is close enough to existing home sites that would allow a large segment of the student body to walk to school instead of a site in the southeast, in a rural area that is outside the city’s year 2020 plan for the urbanized area that guarantees the furtherance of urban sprawl, long driving times and high energy costs.
Imagine a site that would encourage growth in areas that would strengthen the downtown by making it central to the urbanized area. Imagine a site on Columbia’s proposed greenway system that could be accessible by biking or walking. Does such a site exist? Only if you think outside the box. Can such a site be found?
A public park could be shared or expanded to accommodate the new high school. Can Columbia think of “joint use” of public lands before we run out of land? The National Recreation and Park Association promotes the idea: “By combining the resources of two public agencies, the School-Park classification allows for expanding the recreation, social, and educational opportunities available to the community in an efficient and cost-effective manner.” Other cities have adopted the dual use of parks and schools. Why not Columbia?
One site that fits this concept is Cosmopolitan Park in the northwest sector of the city. Here are some further arguments for its consideration:
• The land is already in the public domain in large enough chunks to allow a comfortable joint use of facilities; the park is on over 450 acres with city ownership of an additional 70 acres to accommodate parking and a football stadium.
• There is a natural symmetry in the use of school and park facilities. School use of recreation facilities would be high in the hours of low public use (school hours) and low during high public use (after school hours and weekends).
• The Board of Education and city could jointly plan a park with higher utilization with possible joint use of soccer fields, a running track, baseball diamonds and golf as a part of the school’s team and physical education program, not to mention toilet facilities and parking.
• The site is within walking distance of established commercial facilities such as restaurants along Stadium Boulevard, the Columbia Mall and the Activity and Recreation Center south of Interstate 70, and it would enhance the social life of high school students during lunch and after school hours.
• The location on the north side of I-70 would encourage growth in an area already established area with partially developed neighborhoods.
• The city could use the money from the negotiated joint use settlement for roadwork or to purchase additional park space.
• It provides a possible site for an east-west arterial road to connect neighborhoods and encourage growth on the north side.