Archive for Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Middle school opening hinges on completing water project

Fourth Street residents against taking property

August 16, 2006

The city's in a time crunch.

And it could affect whether Tonganoxie students and teachers can hold classes in the new middle school beginning in January.

For weeks, city council members have heard from property owners on East Fourth Street, upset that the city wants to take some of their land for a project that would include a wider road, new sidewalks and a new water line.

The city is seeking an additional 15-foot easement between the Tonganoxie Creek bridge and the South Park residential subdivision.

The water line is the crucial component of the project. It must be constructed so the city can fill the new water tower near the new middle school. Without a full water tower, the school can't open.

"We've got to get going," council president Velda Roberts said Monday night during a discussion with residents that stretched to nearly 90 minutes. "We've got a project, and the big issue is water. ... I think reasonable minds can reach agreement on this."

If the water line doesn't go along Fourth Street, City Administrator Mike Yanez said other options might be considered.

But they're expensive.

One option is to go south of the sewage treatment plant to Washington Street and then west to the water tower. That plan would cost about $270,000, compared with the Fourth Street's $70,000 price tag.

Little engineering has occurred and no easement acquisition has occurred on that route. And that all would take time.

"The bottom line is this: The school needs that water tower filled in December," he said. ''... The state fire marshal may not sign the occupancy permit to open that school."

He said it would take about 30 days to obtain easements from property owners or go through condemnation proceedings and another 45 days to construct the water line.

"We don't have two more weeks to wait," Yanez said.

So council members scheduled a special meeting for 6:30 p.m. next Tuesday at council chambers, in hopes of resolving the issue.

Moving utilities

At Monday's meeting, Jim Tyler, director of division operations with Westar Energy, told the city it would cost about $316,000 to bury electric lines, rather than move poles farther onto residents' property on the north side of Fourth Street.

And the electric distribution line could be moved onto the south side of Fourth Street for about $48,500, he said.

That option appealed to council member Jason Ward. One stumbling block might be other utilities, such as Sunflower Broadband, which use the same poles.

Ward suggested that property owners allow the city to proceed with the water line and then continue discussions about the Westar poles and a planned sidewalk.

Where's the right of way?

But property owners didn't appear interested on Monday in allowing the city to do that.

One property owner, Paula Crook, 1403 E. Fourth, questioned whether the city had any right of way along the north side of Fourth Street. She said she believes her property line extends into the street.

"At first when I heard that, I thought, I'm going to go out there and put up a fence and close that darned road down," she said.

The room erupted in laughter.

That was about the only light moment as council members and city staff grappled with the problem of getting water to the water tower.

The city staff will look into exactly where the road right of way is in that area.

"I think we can all go out there and safely assume that we have a documented road right of way," said Brian Kingsley of BG Consultants, the city's engineering firm.

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