The Board of Education recently ended its contract for 75 acres off Cartertown Road - but they’re keeping 15 acres of the tract for wetland mitigation.
In late 2006, the board signed a contract with landowner Moe Gill to purchase the entire tract at $15,000 per acre in the hopes of utilizing the site for a new school.
"We signed a contract with Mr. Gill, which expired Dec. 31, 2007, but the board has since released him from the contract," said Superintendent Dr. Sallie Brewer, noting Gill requested to be released. "Originally, the contract was a total tract of 75 acres and we did purchase 15 acres from him to permit the use of the wetlands area next to Carver."
Board Chairman Eddie Warren said he believed they purchased the 15 acres shortly after signing the contract, with the wetland mitigation in mind. Since then, Warren said Gill may have decided to request being released from the contract for economic decisions, based on the cost of development versus the current economy and the housing market.
"He may have felt it was better to wait," Warren said.
Gill's phone number was unlisted.
Even though the school won’t be buying the other 60 acres, Brewer said they are still actively looking for additional land to be purchased for the district.
"We will absolutely keep looking at land; that’s part of our system improvements for this year," she said.
As for the wetland mitigation, Brewer said the board already owned the 30-acre parcel, half of which Carver is built on. The other half will now belong to the new elementary school.
"Once we had the need to build the new Richmond Hill Elementary School, we had to purchase acreage elsewhere in order to build on those wetlands, so we purchased the 15 acres from Mr. Gill for that, within the Cartertown tract," she explained.
When a development requires the use of building on wetlands, the purchasing from a mitigation bank allows for that development to take place. A mitigation bank is a wetland area that has been restored, established or preserved to provide compensation for unavoidable impacts to aquatic resources, according to the Environmental Protection Agency. For comparison, the Bryan County Development Authority has looked into the same concept for the Industrial Centre’s Phase II, at an estimated cost of $10,000 per acre. The aim of mitigating wetlands is to help protect the ecosystem.
As for as the new RHES location being directly next to Carver, Brewer said it was the most sensible location.
"We think the location of the new school is the best educational placement for several reasons. We consider that area to be a K-5 complex. We wouldn’t want K, 1st, 4th and 5th grade to be there and 2nd and 3rd to be somewhere else," she said. "And there’s a great opportunity for improving."
Brewer said this location will actually reduce bus pick up time in the afternoon.
"Right now, the buses go from the RHES to the RHPS to Carver. When the new school is finished, they’ll only have two pick ups, which cuts off many minutes of loading in the afternoon, so that will be a time saver," she said.
Brewer also said the plan is to have additional pavement in front of Carver, allowing more cars to be off the city streets, reducing Hwy. 144 traffic in the morning and afternoon. She said they’ve also planned an additional bus lane behind the RHPS and redesigned the entire traffic pattern to be more efficient.
"People do not realize that, if we build another elementary school, it would be somewhere else. But to complete our current complex, more than half of our children are in that area," she said, pointing out the location of the complex sits roughly in the middle of the majority of housing developments in Richmond Hill.