When the voters approved a bond issue in November 2014 to build new Urbana City Schools facilities, it must have come as a surprise to local leaders. That’s the only explanation we can derive from the past year and a half of drama surrounding the pre-construction process.
The detours encountered recently shouldn’t surprise anyone who acknowledges this fact: for various reasons, voters denied repeated efforts for a full decade to build a new school on a site purchased by the board all the way back in 2004. The school district’s land in the city’s upper northeast quadrant, near the old city landfill, has sat undeveloped for almost 12 years now.
Meanwhile during this decade of inertia, city and school administrations came and went, the school board’s member composition changed markedly and planners passively assumed the city landfill would not pose a problem when constructing a new school.
Last summer, city officials’ elation over the long-held strategic plan to grow Urbana to the northeast turned to dejection as they learned Washington Avenue would not be extended to the new site under the school district’s plans. The district opted instead to extend the nearer Boyce Street in its plans for the new pre-kindergarten through eighth-grade school in order to keep costs low. City officials contended that Washington Avenue was a more pragmatic way to continue growing Urbana according to existing plans, but did not have the millions of dollars set aside to build a lengthier Washington Avenue extension. This left the city at the mercy of the school’s plan, which opted to spend funds in places other than building a significant stretch of a city thoroughfare.
The drip, drip, drip of this street debate went on for months until a bomb dropped regarding the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency’s examination of the old city landfill. It was determined methane exiting the landfill necessitated the new school be built more than 1,000 feet away, but the school plans were within 400 feet.
It’s extremely unfortunate the school district has been forced to seriously consider building the new school outside the city limits on a busy and notoriously dangerous U.S. highway that does not fit the city of Urbana’s strategic plans for growth. Very unfortunate, especially since that U.S. highway has never been successfully bolstered by construction of a much-needed bypass route. But misfortune and discord are what happens when the city’s strategic plans are dusty and unfunded while a crucial economic entity as large as the Urbana school district fails to account for all the pitfalls of building next to the old city landfill.
Perhaps both the city and the school district were caught off guard by voters’ approval of the bond issue after so many years of failures. It seemed like such good news for Urbana when the bond issue was approved, but it has devolved into a quagmire of finger pointing, hurt feelings and disparate activity between two entities that must march forward together to ensure a brighter future.
The voters – both inside and outside the city – are paying dearly for these new school facilities and many taxpayers see the expense as a steep financial sacrifice. What a shame it will be if the citizens also grow to see the project as a major fumble by local leaders who endorsed such a problematic plan when placing it on the ballot.
U.S. Route 68 is not an ideal place for the pre-K through eighth-grade facility. But it could soon become the only place. And that’s not a pro-active example of planning or growth.