Urbana City Schools administrators expect to finalize the purchase of 68.9 acres on South U.S. Route 68 between Vintage Drive Thru and Campground Road within the next few weeks.
The district has been investigating the property as a suitable site for a pre-kindergarten to grade eight building. The district had thought to build the school on land it owns off Community Drive, next to the Champaign Family YMCA. But the district chose to look for a new building site due to the presence of methane at the city of Urbana’s former landfill, and disagreements with the city over roads.
Urbana Superintendent Charles Thiel said Tuesday, after a school board meeting, the district has until Oct. 7 to finalize the sale. The district had extended an original 90-day investigative period to ensure it would be a good choice.
Infrastructure being reviewed
Thiel said the building project managers and architects just learned about a couple options for sewer line access, one of the points that might have kept the district from finalizing the property purchase. There is a sewer line on Route 68 put in by the Champaign County Commission to serve Vancrest of Urbana and the former Lawnview School, now the home of Madison-Champaign Educational Service Center. That line is likely not big enough for the school district to tap into, Thiel said.
The district could put in its own private sewer line, or the city could decide to extend a public sewer line for additional tap-ins for future development in that area. Those two options make it more likely the school district will purchase the property, Thiel said.
City of Urbana Director of Administration Kerry Brugger said he cannot comment on the sewer line situation until the city and district discuss it in more detail.
“There may be a scenario where future economic development opportunities could benefit from city ownership of the sewer main,” Brugger added. “Ultimately, this topic is subject to further discussion and negotiation.”
Another uncertainty at this point is the design for the entrance to the school from U.S. Route 68. That configuration will require working with the Ohio Department of Transportation and the city of Urbana, Thiel said.
Brugger said the city, ODOT and the school district have been working together on a traffic study for the new school site.
Site plan review
The school building site design will likely remain similar to previous designs on the Community Drive site. Thiel said previously the school building design was set up so it could be moved to another site without major changes. The only things that could change are the driveways and access points for emergency services, along with other infrastructure to the building.
At a June 27 meeting of city, township and school officials, it was determined the school building site plan would not have to go before the Urbana Planning Commission again, Brugger said.
“All parties determined that the city of Urbana would work cooperatively with the Urbana Township zoning officer on the site plan review process, including reviews by the city engineer, zoning officer, Urbana Fire Division, water superintendent and sewer superintendent,” he said. “Furthermore, the project would not go back to the city of Urbana Planning Commission since the zoning permit would be issued by Urbana Township.”
The school design for the Community Drive site had received city of Urbana preliminary site plan approval in November 2015 from the Urbana Planning Commission. The plan did not get to final approval, as the school district began looking at a different site for the building.
Thiel said the district would seek annexation of the U.S. Route 68 property into the city limits, but it cannot do that until it owns the property. He said the annexation process is estimated to take six months, but it could run through that process at the same time it is working on the overall site plan design and city and township requirements.
Brugger said any water or sewer tap-in requests outside the city are required to be approved by Urbana City Council according to city ordinance, and no applications for these have been made. The school district is required to file a petition for annexation within 60 days upon approval of water and sewer tap-in requests.
“Ultimately, the school district and the city will need to work together so these timelines can be properly aligned,” he said.
Delays led to schedule switch
The elementary/middle school project is at least six months behind schedule because of the potential change in location, Thiel said. Originally, the elementary/middle school building was to be built first, but the district switched to working on the high school first to keep the delay minimal. The east building of the high school is being demolished and cleared away, and site work is expected to continue throughout the school year on the high school.
Thiel said there will be construction on both buildings at the same time, which will help with the delays. Constructing two buildings at once could bring in good bids from contractors who could be working on both sites simultaneously, he said.
The school board approved the Guaranteed Maximum Price document for the last portion of the high school at its Tuesday meeting. This is the last step before bidding can begin on the work being done to the high school.
Matt Niemeyer of Gilbane Building Company, the construction manager of the project, said the target date to move into the new high school is March 2018. There will still be work on the site, but the building itself should be usable by that time. Work should be finished in summer 2019.
Casey S. Elliott may be reached at 937-652-1331 ext. 1772 or on Twitter @UDCElliott.