School’s home becomes local struggle
When developers for the Village at Avon approached the school board Wednesday for a letter to OK the relocation of an elementary school site, many board members said, “Wait a minute.”
“This is the first time this board has heard about this, and we’re not done discussing this,” said Barbara Schierkolk, president of the Eagle County School Board. “This land has had some problems, and the residents and town members have been discouraged by what’s been happening with it. Now, with all these kinks, we have to discuss this.”
Traer Creek LLC, the developer of the Wal-Mart Supercenter and The Home Depot, originally planned to build an elementary school near the new Interstate 70 interchange, which opened Tuesday afternoon. But the company has said the school district asked the school be built farther from the interstate.
Traer Creek, therefore, proposing moving the school further northeast – across the Eagle River from Paddy’s Bar and Grill. The problem with that location, however, is the proposed access route runs through U.S. Forest Service land. Traer Creek needs approval from the Forest Service to build the road and until the agency approves the plan, the developer cannot put plan for a school there.
A second access was proposed for that site, but the district said it was unacceptable because it winds downhill with a number of switchbacks that could make it a dangerous drive for parents and school buses.
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There is clearly some impatience among school board members.
“I don’t want to wait for the Forest Service,” Schierkolk said. “I don’t want a floating school site. We need a definite on where the school is going.”
Lesser of two evils?
And parents have gone to the Avon Town Council saying kids are at risk at both locations. The interchange spot, parents said, would be too close to future commercial development planned by Traer Creek. The second piece of land would be too remote, too close to the river and power lines, and accessible by only a sketchy road.
Tom Braun, a land planner for the school district, said both sites were flat enough for a school, but that the proposed riverside school would be about three acres larger than the interchange school.
“There is a number of positive attributes to the new site. We’re removed from the interchange. The acreage is more of what we’d like to see for a school,” Braun said. “But a negative is that it’s a bit more remote.”
Parents also raised concerns before the school board about the commercial development that is being proposed north of the new interchange.
Schierkolk said the school board was primarily focused on the best spot for the school, not for retail stores.
“A lot of people aren’t going to like what I’m about to say but that’s my job,” Schierkolk said. “Our job is looking at a school, and not to tell the town or the developer whether they can build commercial property. Our job is to look for the best school.”
Karen Strakbein, assistant Eagle County schools superintendent, said the district was in a “stale mate.”
“There should be a buffer from the commercial areas,” Strakbein said. “We don’t want a school to be next to a hotel or a gas station.”
Avon residents who oppose the commercial development near the school say that it’s not right for the future of the town and the officials are more concerned about retailers than residents.
“This project has everything to do with commercial retailers,” said Avon resident Tamra Underwood.
Eagle County commissioner Arn Menconi, who spoke before the school board as an Avon resident, said the changes are part of a negotiation and the town is trying to abide by the 1998 agreement that paved the way for the Village at Avon, including the Wal-Mart, The Home Depot and the interchange.
“The Town doesn’t want to be an Aurora-like area with all the commercial development,” Menconi said. “A town that claims to be the heart of the valley shouldn’t have to lose its soul.”
The school board agreed to write a letter to the Town of Avon, informing the Town that the district had started to discuss the location of the school. The Town, meanwhile, may make a decision about the changes to the development on Tuesday.
The town of Avon has so far failed to decide whether to approve a change in the development of the Village at Avon project that would include an additional 310 homes and relocating the elementary school.
Christine Ina Casillas can be reached at 949-0555, ext. 607 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.