The proposed location of a new pre-kindergarten through eighth-grade school building on South U.S. Route 68 was discussed at length by Urbana City Council on Tuesday as members hashed out the details for the drafting of a letter, from the City Council, of concern over the location.
The rough draft of the letter, tentatively addressed to the Ohio School Facilities Commission, the Ohio Department of Transportation, the governor’s office and the Urbana City Schools Board of Education, states that while council is “excited about the prospect of a new building,” it wishes to express its concerns with the site location.
The areas of concern expressed by council include utilities, annexation, traffic safety and congestion, and the potential impact on future industrial growth.
Council member Doug Hoffman said one of the key points to consider in all of this is the fact that when manufacturers look for possible locations to set up shop, they “tend to steer clear of proximity to schools,” and with the south side of Urbana being the industrial end of the city, the school locating there could “potentially cause some problems” for future economic development within the city.
Speaking as not only a council member, but also as resident of the city, Hoffman said, “I think that is a horrible location for a school. I haven’t talked to anybody who likes that location.
“That’s going to be a traffic nightmare,” he said. “I’m not even talking about safety. I’m talking about just an inconvenience. There are going to be lines of people waiting to exit that single drive to get to where they are going to go.”
He added that, in his personal opinion, council isn’t against the school district.
“The school is likely going there, and if it does, that’s fine,” Hoffman said. “I just want to make it known throughout the community that the city didn’t choose that location and that we did have and have continued to raise some potential concerns that maybe, when it’s all said and done, won’t exist.”
Council member Tony Pena said that while he would like the final draft of the letter to contain more specifics, he is in support of it.
“We need to say something. I just don’t think that is a good spot at all,” he said. “If we don’t say nothing, then nothing gets accomplished.”
Council member Pat Thackery agreed that the concerns expressed in the rough draft are “too general” and need to be more specific. He also said the letter should be worded in a way not to offend anyone or jeopardize communication between the city and school district.
“I want it to be constructive. I don’t want it to put more fuel on the fire,” he said. “I think we owe it to our constituents to at least communicate (our concerns), but I want to communicate it in a positive manner.”
Possible impact of letter
Council members Dwight Paul and Cledis Scott both questioned what may come of the letter and whether it serves council to move forward with a final draft, expected to be presented to council in resolution form at its Nov. 15 meeting.
“I’m not really sure what we are going to accomplish by doing this,” Paul said. “It’s not solving anything. We are not pushing anything forward by doing this, at least not in this current version of the letter that I see.”
Scott added that the school district is going to do what it’s going to do whether or not council has a list of concerns.
“We have no power and no say-so (in the proposed location),” he said. “The only thing this letter accomplishes is if something bad happens there or if there is an economic development (opportunity), we can come back at a later date and say, ‘We told you so.’”
City administration, staff respond to proposed letter
Community Development Manager Doug Crabill, who has worked closely with school officials on the proposed pre-kindergarten through eighth-grade school building project, addressed council and its letter of concerns.
“Ultimately, if council wants to send a letter, I respect that,” he said. “I would say that we (city staff and administration) have been in communication (with Urbana City Schools) on every topic that you are bringing up, and we’ve had multiple meetings on all of those topics and hashed all of those details out, including the traffic study that’s been prepared by a professional traffic engineer.”
Crabill went on to suggest the traffic study should help answer some of the concerns expressed by council.
“It has the information in it about how the traffic will work at that location,” he said.
Following the meeting, Director of Administration Kerry Brugger said the letter is a council initiative and in no way represents the city’s stance on the proposed school site on South U.S. Route 68.
“This letter council is talking about is not a position of city administration,” he said. “We (administration and city staff) have been working with the school to move this project forward and have been on board with it since May.”
Brugger added city staff have been “fully engaged with the school’s design team and engineers, and the city will continue working with the school as we want to make this project successful for the Urbana community.”
Joshua Keeran may be reached at 937-652-1331 (ext. 1774) or on Twitter @UDCKeeran.