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For the week of September 20 through 26, 2000

New high school caught in land crunch


By TRAVIS PURSER
Express Staff Writer

The Blaine County School District may build a new $19.6 million high school on the existing Wood River High School’s sports fields if it cannot resolve problems purchasing property from neighboring land owners.

Since January, the district has said it plans to build the new school on 15 acres of ranch land located on the northeast side of the existing Wood River High School property.

Owned by real estate broker Stoney Burke and his partner, Fred Judd, the ranch includes 1,540 acres of Quigley Gulch property, a small portion of which the school district has eyed for development.

In an interview yesterday, Burke disclosed that he and his partner might not sell any land to the school district—or they might sell from two to 15 acres.

When asked if that might force the district to build the new school on existing sports fields, he said, "That’s possible."

But, he added, "I defer to (county school superintendent Jim) Lewis on that."

Lewis said in an interview yesterday that building the school on existing sports fields is "definitely one of the options" the district is considering.

The proposed new high school was the centerpiece of a $40 million school facilities levy voters approved in May.

Lewis said that the district never had a contract on the 15 acres.

"We announced that several times during the levy," he said.

Lewis said the shape of the parcel potentially available may not be what district officials had in mind initially. He declined to elaborate because of ongoing negotiations.

While acknowledging that the district may not get the land it originally wanted, Lewis said the district may build the new school on the sports fields for another reason—because that would create an efficient campus.

"It’s more and more evident that the new school needs to be closer to the old school," he said.

Lewis explained that district planners had reconsidered having the new school and the future multi-use facility separated by sports fields. Because students and teachers would need to walk back and forth between facilities, the buildings would need to be located closer together, he said.

Lewis said he did not yet know how the district would replace the lost sports fields, but the district may try to purchase additional property for new ones on either the north or south side of the high school campus.

The Blaine County Recreation District plans to develop a golf course on a portion of the Quigley Gulch ranch land, and there are possible drainage issues the three groups will need to resolve. Neither the school district nor Burke were willing to elaborate, however, until negotiations were finished.

By locating the new school adjacent to the existing school, district officials said in January, the new school could be constructed at a discount. That’s because the new school could use the existing WRHS sports fields, which would require the district to purchase only 15 acres, rather than the usual 21 acres needed for a new high school.

Under the plan, the existing high school would become a multi-use facility shared by the district, the College of Southern Idaho and the Blaine County Recreation District.

Even with the current land negotiation problems, Lewis said, construction of the new high school, which begins in the spring of 2002, is still "right on schedule." He said the school’s scheduled completion date is set for fall of 2003.

 

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