Cosgray site best for 3rd High School

The Columbus Dispatch – March 10, 2005

Voters in the Hilliard school district won’t see a bond issue in November, despite a new survey that says 63 percent support a third high school to relieve overcrowding.

But after the defeat of three previous bond issues, three of five school board members said this week they want to wait until year’s end to see if another site would be available.

A building moratorium on the Big Darby watershed since November 2002 has limited the sites available for a new high school. The moratorium is scheduled to be lifted in November, after regulations are developed to protect the area. But if that work is not done, the moratorium could be extended.

Nearly half of the district lies within the watershed or just west of it. The area to the west cannot be developed because water and sewer can’t be piped through the watershed.

“We’re absolutely being held hostage by the moratorium,” board member Dick Hammond said. “It just holds us up. We can’t move ahead like we’d like to.”

The three defeated bond issues asked voters for money to build a high school on the 121 acres the district owns on Cosgray Road, south of Hayden Run and north of Scioto Darby Road. The district paid Saperstein Associates $14,500 to ask voters what they would support.

More than half — 55 percent — of the 401 registered voters who answered the telephone survey want construction to start now on the Cosgray Road site.

But among likely voters — those who had voted in six or more of the past nine elections — support for the Cosgray Road site was evenly split at 42 percent.

Board member Tom Calhoon said he’ll take those odds. He supports a November bond issue for the Cosgray site.

“Our critical need is to solve overcrowding now.”

With help from township trustees, the city of Hilliard and county commissioners, voters can be educated about constraints the moratorium places on the district, Calhoon said.

Many voters who opposed the bond issues in 2002 and 2003 objected to potential traffic congestion at the Cosgray site.

After the third defeat, a committee of 112 residents was appointed to restudy all options for dealing with the space crunch.

The committee wrapped up its research in June and recommended that the board survey the community. The Saperstein survey, conducted in January, was made public last week.

Board President Libby Gierach and members Denise Bobbitt and Hammond aren’t sure what they’ll do if the moratorium isn’t lifted this year. All said it would force them to look again at the Cosgray Road site.

“I want to provide a good learning environment for students,” Gierach said. “There comes a point (an education) can be compromised with crowded common areas.”

Darby and Davidson high schools, each built for 1,800 students, are more than full. Darby students are being farmed out to four other sites to accommodate more than 2,200 students this year.

“We’re reaching saturation,” Darby Principal Dave Stewart said. Next year, he expects more than 2,500 students. Davidson is expected to have more than 1,900.

Modular classrooms on both campuses will be ready by August and will allow Darby to accommodate all students for the first time in three years. But hallways and cafeterias will be more crowded than ever.

The modulars will be in place until the third high school is completed. Construction takes about two years.