Urbana city and school district officials continue to hammer away at details surrounding the new Urbana City Schools elementary/middle school building project.
Though the project has not been officially submitted for review by the city, school officials say the latest discussions appeared positive.
The $68 million school building project would build a new elementary/middle school building for grades pre-kindergarten to eight at a site off Community Drive, and knock down and reconstruct the existing high school at its current location. School voters approved a 7.15-mill property tax bond issue to pay for the construction in November.
School district and city officials have been discussing the development requirements for the new schools for several months. The elementary/middle school building site is on undeveloped land and it needs infrastructure such as roads and utilities extended to it. The cost associated with building access to the site, as required by the city, could be higher than the district estimated.
School and city officials met last week to get more details about the process, the city’s requirements and a potential site plan for the new building. Urbana Director of Administration Kerry Brugger and Urbana schools Superintendent Charles Thiel discussed a possible site plan that would extend the road from Community Drive to the school site and have a second entrance for bus, staff and emergency use from Boyce Street. The city requires a second access point for a new development. Regular school traffic and parent drop-off and pick-up would be from Community Drive.
The concern of city staff is the impact extending Boyce Street for use as a secondary access point would have on the surrounding neighborhood, Brugger said.
“I assume the residents that invested and built on Dorothy Moore or built on Boyce were probably not anticipating traffic like that,” he said.
The city had wanted to see Washington Avenue extended eastward across the property, but the district’s attorneys said they did not believe a school district could be required to build a city street.
Though extending Washington Avenue likely will not occur with the school development, Thiel said the district does plan to keep space available for that road to be extended across the property at some point in the future, if a developer wants to do so.
The school district has not submitted a zoning or development application to the city yet. It is unknown how long it will take for the development to be reviewed and approved by the city once that application is submitted.
Brugger said the latest meeting between the city and district staff was to get more information about the potential building development.
Thiel said the discussion helped the district solidify its plans so it can begin developing a site plan to present to the city. There had been some discussion that if the cost to extend roads and utilities was too high the district could buy a different piece of property in the city where the roads and utilities were already available. Thiel said that is not likely to be the situation now.
“The feeling I walked away with is this will be the school site. There is no turning back from that,” he said. By solidifying that decision, the school district’s architects can begin doing the site survey and get more detail about the design and layout of all the elements of the construction. A site survey has been completed for the high school building project, Thiel said, since that one did not have as many unknowns.
“There are still a lot of details to be worked out, and a lot of decisions have to be made,” Brugger said. “We’ve made a baby step.”
Thiel added it seemed this latest discussion was more focused on what each side can do to improve the development for the other.
“Everything we heard from the city is much more positive about development of that site for our school and problem solving,” he said. “We’ve been trying to answer the questions they have and resolve the issues they have. I think we all feel this is a huge thing for our community. It will make a huge difference for our students and it will be a huge impact on our community. We all want to make sure it is done right and done well.”
A follow-up meeting has not been scheduled.
Casey S. Elliott may be reached at 937-652-1331 ext. 1772 or on Twitter @UDCElliott.
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