In a process that has lasted almost a year, the school board voted on March 20 to move the new Charles L. Seipelt Elementary School to the new 131 land next to the Reserves of Greycliff.
This land was purchased about 9 years ago in a contentious process, with the then-administration and board paying over twice market value and incurring an additional several hundred thousand in legal fees. The rationale behind the purchase was the current Seipelt land was not large enough, per state regulations, to build a new school. While that is true, the state does allow a waiver for smaller pieces of land. It is not known if that was true at the time of the land purchase, what due diligence that administration conducted, and what the board was told at the time of the land purchase.
Over the past year, when the current administration researched the issue and discovered a waiver was available, extensive research has been done to determine the best location for the new school. Factors examined include cost, building process, location, and much more. Both “hard” and “soft” (i.e., emotional & personal preferences) were weighed in the decision process.
This process has proven to be an example of how data is absolutely necessary before making up your mind, one way or another, on a decision like this. Initial input from several experts was that the 131 land would be significantly more expensive to develop. However, as our construction team dug into both sites, they discovered several factors that actually flipped the cost in favor of the new land. Infrastructure at the existing site is not sufficient to support new construction (per regulations) and we would have to go farther for utilities than expected. In addition, land grading would be very expensive to ensure the land would not flood the building and the homes around it. Finally, a different configuration on the new land would allow the district to take advantage of existing infrastructure that was not previously believed to be available.
A traffic study was also completed since there are concerns about traffic flow on 131. The study shows turn lanes in both directions will be required to manage traffic; a light is not warranted, per state requirements. With these turn lanes, the traffic study suggests the traffic will be manageable during regular usage times (8-9:30 am, 3:15-4:45 pm), although impact during “special” times, such as when the school is used in the evening, was not examined.
The turn lanes will cost approximately $400,000. About $300,000 of this is likely to be covered by the state, but this is not guaranteed. In addition, Larry Fronk from Miami Township has said it may be possible for the additional to be covered by the Clermont County TID (Transportation Improvement District), although this also is not guaranteed.
However, even with the total cost of the turn lane included, the cost to develop the new 131 land is within a few tens of thousands of building on the Seipelt land. When the cost of the land itself is added in (the difference in what the district could get from selling the land plus interest savings, less pre-payment penalty on the new land) it is about $220,000 more to build on the new land. This money is covered by state funds and is already in the budget, but as mentioned, we hope to receive some of that money back from the state and Clermont County to cover the turn lanes. If we do, that money will return to our state fund to be held for the future when we finish the Master Plan and the additional funds are returned to the community.
While using the existing Seipelt site is possible, the lot size would not allow for easy expansion or other options, such as outdoor trails and other learning areas.
Obviously, there are still many questions that cannot be answered until the school is built. Some of the decision must be made on faith. I am not convinced the traffic won’t be an issue, but unfortunately that is one of those things that cannot be projected accurately. If the school were not built on 131, something will go on that land; even if the district requires single-family homes, that will add to traffic. This is one piece of the puzzle we must project, and I feel the traffic will not be worse than it would be if homes went into that space.
In addition, while many people in the subdivisions across the street hope their kids will be able to walk to school, this will not be possible with the current plans. The state has said a light is not warranted, and there will be a turn lane only. This is not our decision – it’s the state’s. Even with a school zone, it is not safe for students to cross a busy road like 131, and at this point, there is no discussion about adding sidewalks to either side of 131. Families in neighborhoods like Stoneridge, Meadows of Milford, Tree Ridge and Highland Terrace have to understand that the district is not planning on this being a walkable school for their kids.
Certainly one concern with leaving the current Seipelt property is what will be done with that land. I want to assure those residents that I as part of the current board am committed to placing the appropriate restrictions on the property to ensure you have a good neighbor. In fact, the board has already begun discussions about next steps to establish an effective process and make sure it is managed properly.
Given all this, after much thought and consideration, I believe the best decision with the data available is to move Seipelt to the 131 location. For me, this is a bittersweet decision. This is where thousands of students, including my daughter, spent their formative school years – the time they still loved coming to school and riding the bus. The school has been part of that neighborhood for decades, a good neighbor, one people are happy to have in their backyard. I hope Seipelt has as warm a welcome and as good an experience in the new location as it has had on Cromley for the past 52 years.