Rift over Maplewood School land deepens between Cary School District 26 and village

Zoning board votes down district plans for bus center

Children practice on a ball field at Maplewood Elementary School on Wednesday, Sept. 6, 2023. Members of the Cary School District 26 Board of Education voted on a transportation project site design concept and project timeline that paves the way for Maplewood Elementary School to be tore down and the construction of new and larger transportation center.

Cary School District 26 continues to plan for a new bus transportation center at the old Maplewood School property, but the village of Cary may put a stop to those plans.

The district requested an amendment to the current zoning to allow school-related transportation centers as well as a conditional-use permit and some variances for the project. Variances include an increased fence height from 8 to 10 feet and a request not to install landscaping around the fence line.

“One of the reasons why we would prefer that the fence line around the storage lot remain clear is for visibility purposes,” District 26 Director of Finance and Operations David Shepherd said. “It will be easier to spot if we have people that are in the bus lot if we don’t have any bushes obstructing our view.”

Cary’s board of zoning, planning and appeals denied to recommend the request in a 4-2 Thursday.

The property is currently zoned as a single-family residential district, according to village documents. The elementary school that has been closed for almost 14 years, along with the district’s transportation building and the concessions and restroom building used by Cary-Grove Youth Baseball and Softball, all are scheduled to be demolished before June 1, according to district documents.

“The current facility is falling apart. The transportation center is a used trailer that was bought used in the early 1990s, I believe,” Shepherd said.

The new Maplewood Transportation Center, which is planned for an adjacent property, is set to include parking spaces for 40 school buses, a fuel pump, car parking, vehicle service, wash bays and an office area. The district secured a $374,500 bid for demolition in January.

Maplewood School, located at 340 W. Krenz Ave., will be turned into a vacant grassy lot. Village officials expressed that they would like to see future residential development on the land, but the district plans to hold onto the land, potentially for a new school, Shepherd said.

“At this time, there is no present plan to build an educational facility at that site, but it is an option as the landowner that we hold available to us,” Shepherd said.

The village of Cary proposed multiple scenarios to assist with the redevelopment of the property, which sits in the village’s downtown tax increment financing district that was created in August.

Proposals included an upfront purchase of $2.75 million and a transfer agreement with hopes of taking control and redeveloping the property. Incentives for the district to take the offer included TIF revenue and a limit on upfront costs.

The district declined all offers, with Superintendent Brandon White citing in an Oct. 31 email to the village the potential future need for property, the desire to stay on the construction schedule and the effect of the TIF on the school district’s finances.

Mayor Mark Kownick said this has been “a very disappointing thing for the village of Cary.”

Some collaboration between the district and the village still might happen, as the village hopes to increase downtown accessibility with a Maplewood access road extension project. The village requested District 26 reserve land north of the property for the road and use the future road as the main access point for the transportation center.

Shepherd argued that preparing plans for a main entry point to the future access road “would not be practical.”

Some residents have expressed concerns about more light pollution.

New LED lights would follow current codes and would be “dramatically improved” from the lighting at the current transportation center, said principal architect Greg Stahler from Cashman Stahler Group, which works for the district.

Board member Eric Kretschmer asked why the district wouldn’t build the new transportation center at the Cary Junior High School property.

Shepherd cited “logistical challenges” for Deer Path Elementary as well as traffic at the junior high school, soil quality concerns and congestion.

“We’d have to build a separate entry and exit for those buses, which would dramatically alter the landscape of that campus, taking away possible outdoor learning spaces for our students,” he said.

The District 26 board is expected to vote on a bidder for construction of the transportation center Monday evening but will have to wait for village approval at the April 2 meeting.

Bids for the project range from $5.2 million to 5.8 million, about $2 million less than the district initially estimated, according to district documents.

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