High school site neighbors speak out

Thursday, September 13, 2007 | 8:47 p.m. CDT; updated 1:45 p.m. CDT, Monday, July 21, 2008
The six proposed sites for the new high school.

COLUMBIA — Wayne Behymer lives on Rolling Hills Road in southeast Columbia, and one of the sites proposed for a new public high school is, as he put it, “at his back door.” He sees the likelihood of major upheaval in his rural neighborhood dominated by cornfields, but he is choosing to remain optimistic.

“I probably should be upset,” Behymer said. “But they’ve got to have a high school.”

The 56-acre Payne site near the intersection of Rolling Hills and New Haven roads, owned by John Payne and offered to the Columbia Public School District for $3 million, is among five under review by a citizens committee. An offer for a sixth site is on the table as of Thursday, but it, unlike the others, has not been checked out by an engineering firm.

Behymer built his home on about two acres of land in 1963 and anticipated development in his backyard much earlier.

“We thought when we bought the land that we’d have 10 years before the city of Columbia started building on our back doorstep,” Behymer said. “We had 40 years of grace without development behind us, and that’s 33 years over what we thought we’d originally have.”

He seems to be taking the idea in stride. “There will be times when tires would be squealing and the lights of the football field would be on, but we’ll deal with that if it comes,” Behymer said.

Down the road, however, Sally Mertz is not in favor of a new high school on the Payne property and wasn’t aware it was being considered. However, Mertz said she’s OK with putting a high school on the Vemer property, which is just a little farther away from her home.

Rosie Gard lives near the proposed 80-acre St. Charles Road Development site, in northeast Columbia along St. Charles Road just east of the Lake of the Woods Golf Course and west of Route Z. Gard is not opposed to a high school being built in the area but she said she favors a site on the city’s north side, an area she thinks has been neglected in terms of facilities.

“Businesses and schools typically don’t build in the north,” she said. “We don’t have a grocery store.”

Traffic near Gard’s home is not bad yet, but she said the new Links subdivision could pose problems in the future.

“They are not prepared for the amount of traffic they are building for,” Gard said.

One of Gard’s other concerns is that commercial development would follow construction of the high school. “I don’t want to live downtown,” she said.

Dale Powell and his wife have lived since 1962 on land adjacent to the proposed Richland Road site, in southeast Columbia along Richland Road just east of the intersection of Richland and St. Charles roads.

“I can see no way that a high school can be built there,” Powell said. “I can’t see six or seven buses lining up to get on the highway.”

The district is looking at 80 acres of the 273 acres available on that site.

Powell said traffic in the area has increased with the recent addition of the Bay Hills subdivision, and speeding is sometimes a problem.

Powell, who was assistant principal at Hickman High School from 1965 to 1991, said he would never oppose the building of a school. But he said a site on the northeast side of Columbia would, in his opinion, be better.

Julie Flanner moved to the Bay Hills subdivision with her family in January. The subdivision is across the road from the Richland Road site, and Flanner said she is not opposed to a high school being built there. She said traffic is not bad now, but she recognizes that a high school would bring more of it.

Larry Blase opposes locating a high school on the proposed Godas property adjacent to him in northeast Columbia, on the east side of Route Z and north of Interstate 70. Owner George Godas has offered two parcels of land, each 80 acres, of his 210 acres.

“In general, I’m more opposed to urban sprawl,” said Blase, who has lived there since 1972. “I’ve been saying that urban sprawl is going to put us cattle people out of business.”

Although district efforts to make the process of selecting a site more inclusive has overshadowed it, the 80-acre Vemer site in southeast Columbia is still the one approved by the school board for the high school. It is at the southeast corner of Rangeline and New Haven roads, close to the Payne site. Merle Cook has lived near the Vemer site for five years and said he opposes it being used for a high school at this point.

“It will be a great site in 20 years,” Cook said.

Roads would need to be widened and shoulders created, he said, and he prefers seeing a high school go in the northern part of the city.

Plus, living next to a high school holds no appeal for Cook, who moved from southern California for peace and quiet. He doesn’t want to see the roadsides littered with fast-food wrappers or the Friday night lights of sports events.

“I went to high school,” he said dryly.

Missourian reporters Jessica Huang, Tori Moss, Lyndsey Nelson and Rebekah Sasse contributed to this report.

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