Sunday, October 9, 2016

The Criteria for Selecting a Site for the School--A Critique

Germantown schools are bursting at the seams, and we must have a new elementary school as soon as possible. That being said, on getting notice of a vote on Friday afternoon for a vote the following Monday (September 12) was hardly warranted. 

The BMA approved, on a 5-0 vote, a contract to buy approximately 30 acres (19 of which could be developed) on Winchester Road east of Forest Hill. This is in the far southeastern corner of the county, and in an area of open land.

On the 19th, the School Board tabled a motion to move forward with this, because of the loud protestations of many parents. You may read the JAM account of the School Board meeting.

A Town Hall Meeting was held on September 28 that had parents discuss locations and the criteria for selecting a school.  Oddly enough (or expectedly) open discussion was not allowed, and the well attended meeting broke the attendees into tables for discussion.There was no public feedback from the tables, although informally some parents were able to compare notes after the meeting was over, and on social media. 

There was lots of discussion about the criteria used for selecting a school site, and most of the tables questioned the criteria that they were given to evaluate the sites.

Here are the criteria that our Mayor said he used in selecting the site, but there was only a brief explanation for the need for each criteria.  I list the criteria and give my take on each one. 


1. South of Poplar/Poplar Pike

We think of Poplar going east/west but if you look at a map, Poplar/Poplar Pike is far south in the eastern part of Germantown. This seems like a false way of dividing the city.

2. 20-30 acres, to have park  There was consensus among the parents that there was no need to have a park by the school. The school site on Winchester has 19 acres that can be developed, due to flooding issues at the site.  Because it only faces one busy street (Winchester) any design will have to have lots of asphalt for inner drives.  Also a street to Regency Homebuilder's land for which the homebuilder has an option is planned for the site.

3. Availability of land  We all agree that land has to be available. It does not inspire confidence to know that the Mayor had not seemed to do any research on current land availability. This is despite the claim that they had been looking at sites for two years. Here he eliminates one site at Forest Hill and Poplar Pike due to availability, that parents found out was for sale by calling a telephone number on a sign! 

4. Cost Obviously the cost of the land, meaning the initial cost plus all the work to get the site ready to build, is a factor.

5. Proximity of Existing Schools  The area of town around the 3Gs needs a GMSD elementary school. We obviously cannot count on getting Germantown Elementary School back from Shelby County Schools.  A mythical future "maybe" is not a reason to discount this area.

6. Ease of Development  This ties into the cost, and obvious flooding issues at the proposed site are a real problem. The initial proposal to develop the Winchester land into lots by Regency Homebuilders called for a retention pond to be put in the middle of the development.  As you can see, in their application to build Ainsley Homes, they note that a stream runs through the property. We can only speculate as to why the original plan never materialized. A neighbor of the property has told us that there have been a couple of "hundred year floods" on the property in the last twenty years.  This visual of the original Regency Homebuilders plan showing the stream and retention pond outlined in red is a big red flag for this Winchester site: 

7. Residential Growth--hundreds of new rooftops near the school.  Why would this be a priority when our schools are now overcrowded?                                                                    
Do we want to have even more overcrowding?  The first priority should be to serve existing students. Where on this list is the need for a neighborhood school, where kids and parents can ride or bike?  The proposed school site only has frontage on Winchester, and it is very busy. When the GMSD Board tabled the motion to look at the school in a 4-1 vote, Ken Hoover talks about using the need for a neighborhood school. Other school board members give their reasons for tabling the motion as well. 

Here is a list of studies on the effect of neighborhood schools on property values. Can someone please tell me why this isn't at least one of the criteria?   

Neighborhood Schools and Property Values

In his presentation to the BMA, Patrick Lawton seems to have as a main criteria various projects that will help development in the area.  Although the Mayor lists the criteria "in no particular order" it is clear that development of the area and various infrastructure projects by the city are at the top of the list for Patrick Lawton. 

Links to Other Shining a Light on Germantown Posts

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