The proposed Scalia school site got a unanimous thumbs down Wednesday from city planners.
Within minutes, school and city officials said they will scramble to try to come up with a different location in the western part of Bristol.
Though the Planning Commission endorsed a school on the former Crowley site on Pine Street, its refusal to support the Scalia site off Barlow Street effectively kills that option, city councilors and others said.
Though educational leaders said a vote against either site would make it impossible to go forward with the $130 million plan for two new 900-student schools, they said they plan to try to find an acceptable alternative.
They’re eyeing vacant land in the Chippens Hill area, including perhaps the former Roberts property, as a replacement for the Scalia sand pit that planner rejected.
“I can’t see how there’s going to be enough time,” said city Councilor Cliff Block, one of four councilors who backed both sites.
The planning veto of the Scalia site means that only a two-thirds vote by the council would allow the location to go forward – and none of the opponents is ready to switch sides.
Mayor Art Ward said he will turn up the heat to try to make the Roberts parcel possible, but other open areas on Chippens Hill are also being eyed.
Planners gunned down the Scalia site because they were concerned about its isolation, the cost of infrastructure improvements and their lack of involvement in making the selection to begin with.
City Planner Alan Weiner called it “a difficult decision” with pros and cons. He said it comes at the intersection of land use and educational policy.
Attorney James Ziogas, who represents the Scalias, said the process “has been flawed” in part because the city planner and city engineer were not included in the decision-making process.
They have the expertise “to help in this process” and they should have had input, Ziogas said.
A number of people questioned the placement of a school near such small roads.
“Is it safe for a school?” Ziogas said. “I know it’s not.”
He said he would also like to know the cost of infrastructure improvements off the site.
Ziogas said that Pequabuck Street “cannot handle the traffic.”
“The infrastructure costs are going to be tremendous” and they are not going to be reimbursed,” Ziogas said.
City Engineer Paul Strawderman said Barlow and Pequabuck streets need help.
“I wouldn’t begin to guess what it might cost to upgrade those streets,” the city engineer said.
There is a one-lane railroad overpass on Barlow that won’t be changed “no matter how much money you throw at it.”
Strawderman said there is “little or no storm drainage” in that area. Plus there’s a need for a water line and perhaps sidewalks, he said.
Streifer said that Strawderman is “exactly right” in considering the cost of the property, but “what we’re all facing as a community is that every cost decision we make now” is that given timelines to make deadline of June 13, 2010, the city needs sites, architectural plans and a contractor to build it.
“All that has to happen by June 13, 2010 or the city forfeits” the 73.9 percent state reimbursement rate on the project, Streifer said.
Ward said that the deadline could be extended, but Streifer said he strongly doubts that’s possible. He said he’s never seen it happen.
Board of Education member Tom O’Brien, who spearheaded the project, said that the Scalia site was picked because there were four votes for it on the City Council.
“It’s taken us 10 years to get to this point where we can have four votes on the City Council for two sites,” O’Brien said.
He said if this plan doesn’t go forward, it won’t happen in our lifetimes.
School Superintendent Philip Streifer said the planning vote “doesn’t make any sense” because it backed the Crowley site while turning down Scalia even though the issues commissioners raised were the same for both.
City Councilor Kevin McCauley called the decision “a travesty” and insisted it showed “a lack of vision” by the commission.
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