Cary Village Board rejects school transportation center plans, prompting pause on Maplewood teardown

‘We are begging that we get this done,’ one area resident said

The current Cary School District 26 Transportation Center 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 to be tore down and the construction of new and larger transportation center.

The village of Cary has halted Cary School District 26′s plans for a new bus transportation center at the old Maplewood School property, at least for the time being.

The Cary Village Board in a 5-1 vote Tuesday denied a change to village code that would have allowed school-related transportation centers in residential districts. The village’s Board of Zoning, Planning and Appeals did not recommend the proposal in a 4-2 vote last month.

But District 26 will have another chance when the board votes on the ordinance and variance requests next month. The board plans on casting a final vote on the matter on May 7.

The plan will be “fine-tuned” to the “additional findings,” Mayor Mark Kownick said. The board denied only a related text amendment request and not the adoption of the actual ordinance, village attorney Scott Uhler said.

“The additional time would allow the staff to make sure that the final version of the ordinance includes carefully crafted findings of fact that capture the discussion this evening and the plan commission’s discussion,” Uhler said.

Trustee Jennifer Weinhammer, who voted yes on the proposal, expressed confusion about the reasons for holding the vote until next month.

“We already have all this information, but it’s just going to be even more information in front of us to vote on the exact same thing?” she said.

But the district project’s fate may be sealed because it cannot proceed without the text amendment allowing a transportation facility in a single-family residential zone, Village Administrator Erik Morimoto said.

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 were scheduled to be demolished before June 1, according to district documents.

People listen to a board discussion during a Cary School District 26 Special Board of Education Meeting Wednesday, Sept. 6, 2023 at the Cary Junior High School in Cary, to vote on the transportation project site design concept and project timeline. The plan paves the way for Maplewood Elementary to be tore down and the construction of new and larger transportation center.

After the “unfortunate outcome” of Tuesday’s meeting, the district’s plans to construct the transportation center are on hold until staff can determine the next steps, District 26 Superintendent Brandon White said. Asbestos abatement will still be done on the Maplewood school but the demolition is paused because the utilities for the transportation center are connected to the building, he said.

The new Maplewood Transportation Center, which is planned for adjacent property, is supposed 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.

The district planned to have the Maplewood School, located at 340 W. Krenz Ave., turned into a vacant grassy lot. Village officials have said 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, District 26 Director of Finance and Operations David Shepherd said.

Cary resident Martha Ritter, who lives near the Maplewood property, said she wants the transportation center to remain there because they never had problems with the current one. Cary resident Christy Wagner said the transportation center needs to be approved so the empty Maplewood school can finally be demolished.

“We are begging that we get this done,” she said. ”We don’t want to have to continue to have that building be not only an eyesore, but it’s dangerous.”

Two resident letters were written to the village board opposing the transportation facility, Uhler said. Trustee Ellen McAlpine said all resident emails she received expressed opposition to the proposal and Kownick said opinions in the neighborhood are a “mixed bag.”

“We have to look at everything individually and give it its own merit,” Kownick said. “Where it is and how it impacts the community, what is exactly around it.”