The city’s Planning Commission, which shot down an earlier school site recommendation, gave its unanimous blessing Monday to a plan to put the school on a 26.4-acre site off Matthews Street.
It’s “a better site” for the proposed 900-student school, said Brian Ewings, a planning commissioner.
School Superintendent Philip Streifer said that three smaller lots that contain houses are also likely to become part of the project. They would add several more acres to the school site.
With the backing of planners, it takes only a majority vote of the City Council to approve the purchase of the two lots. That is likely to come as soon as Thursday since five of the seven council members have already indicated their support for the plan.
The Board of Education is pushing to complete a $132 million project that would include two new kindergarten to eighth grade schools and the closure of four older buildings.
The other site, which has been approved but not yet bought, is the former Crowley dealership on Pine Street.
Streifer said Monday that “some other property” may need to be acquired for the Pine Street site, but it apparently would not be done by eminent domain since the superintendent said he doesn’t want to force anyone out of a home.
Streifer said the owner of a historic farmhouse at the corner of Matthews Street and Clark Avenue, which is part of the larger of the two parcels approved by planners, is willing to sell all but the house and a few acres surrounding it.
The owners of four houses on Matthews Street are willing to sell completely, Streifer said.
A report prepared by Milone & MacBroom, a Cheshire consultant, said that buying the 12- acre lot to the east of the bigger parcel would provide room for future expansion, including perhaps an early learning center and ballfields.
The initial plan calls for a wide swath of meadow along Matthews Street in front of at least some of the school property. The fate of a historic stone wall along the road is unclear.
City Engineer Paul Strawderman, who raised doubts about putting a school at a Barlow Street sand pit because of its distance from city services, said that the Matthews Street site is “a big step up” from a public works perspective.
The city anticipates the state will pay nearly 74 percent of the cost of the new schools, but it won’t pay for infrastructure improvements outside the property itself. So access to water, sewer and other key public works is important to city officials who are looking at the cost to property taxpayers in Bristol.
The current plan calls for hiring architects soon and completing the purchase of both sites before the General Assembly opens in January. A construction contract has to be signed by June 13, 2010 or the project is dead.
Streifer said, though, that serious work on the project could wait up to three more years if the economy requires delay.
Targeted for closure as part of the plan are Memorial Boulevard Middle School and three older primary schools – O’Connell, Bingham and Greene-Hills. The city would take possession of all four buildings. It has had almost no public discussion of what might happen to them.
The Milone & MacBroom report, available in PDF format here, goes into more detail. You can read it for yourself.
Here is a link to a Word 97-03 documbent that shows what the site might look like with a school on Parcel A as well as a plan for using both parcels.
The map doesn't show the smaller parcels -- lots 257, 256-1 and 256-2 -- but Streifer said he'll ask for the OK to buy them as well later on.
He said, though, that a school could be built even if they're not purchased.
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