Urbana City Schools board is discussing locating its new pre-kindergarten to grade 8 building on a site other than the one near the Champaign Family YMCA.
The board discussed the matter in executive session Tuesday. The board has not decided to purchase property and has not said where the potential site is located.
The district is in the middle of a building project that would create a new pre-kindergarten to grade 8 building on property the district owns off Community Drive. The project would also knock down and rebuild the high school on its current location.
The need to find a new site for the unbuilt elementary/middle school building is due to an issue with methane gas next to the district’s property off Community Drive. The district bought that property years ago, and the district’s building project had planned to put the elementary/middle school there.
The Ohio Environmental Protection Agency realization that the property is next to the city of Urbana’s former landfill put a hold on plans to build a school there. Urbana Superintendent Charles Thiel said preliminary measurements have determined the site is leaking methane gas at a higher level than permitted. Environmental regulations prohibit the gas crossing property lines.
“We do know there is methane gas at a higher level than what’s acceptable at at least one of the wells, which is four feet from our property line,” Thiel told the school board at its Tuesday meeting.
The city is collecting data from the landfill and working with the EPA on determining how to fix the problem. This new issue may force a relocation of the school building.
Thiel said he expects it will take approximately six months to determine what the city needs to do to fix the landfill methane gas issue and how to pay for it.
High school project may start first
The school district is working with its architects and building project managers to see if it can start the high school project first. It had planned to build the elementary/middle school first to get eighth graders out of the high school building, so there would be space for high school students to be moved around the high school during construction.
Even if the high school can be done first, there will still be lost time for the overall project, Thiel said.
“Minimally, the elementary building is six months behind due to this issue,” he said. “And, there’s still the issue with the street.”
Thiel referred to a dispute between the school district and the city of Urbana over the extension of Washington Avenue across part of the school’s Community Drive property.
Though site design has stopped for the elementary/middle school, planning continues on interior building items, such as room design and fixtures.
If plans can move fast enough, some site work and construction may be done at the high school this summer and fall. That would include knocking down the east building at the high school site. A couple grade levels would be moved to Urbana Local Intermediate, which closed a couple years ago as part of a building reorganization.
The school district has preliminary approval for the high school site design and received an Urbana Board of Zoning Appeals variance March 14 for parking. City regulations require 396 spaces for the new high school, but there will only be 301 spaces on the site, according to plans. The city wanted more spaces than 396, to account for the football stadium at the high school.
“There’s no way we would be able to do it. We’d have to bulldoze a block,” Thiel said of creating parking for the football field. “We know we can never meet the requirements for the football field, but the existing condition has been there, and people have gotten used to that.”
Thiel added the 301 spaces should be fine for the high school. Currently, the school district has 360 parking spaces spread across the site, which includes the large parking lot off East Lawn Avenue. That parking is rarely filled.
“The big parking lot on East Lawn is sorely underutilized. It has 30 percent capacity on a daily basis,” he said. Thiel added the new parking lot with the reconstructed building will likely be used more.
In other action, the school board unanimously approved a resolution declaring a case of urgent necessity to replace a boiler at East Elementary. The boiler can no longer be repaired, and it is estimated it will cost $28,000 to replace it, Thiel said. The school has a backup boiler in operation, but the district does not want to rely on it in case it fails, too. The boilers are 30 years old.
Casey S. Elliott may be reached at 937-652-1331 ext. 1772 or on Twitter @UDCElliott.