Safety concerns about the proposed location of a new OPS elementary school have prompted the Bellevue Planning Commission to balk at approving the project.
Last week, Omaha Public Schools officials appeared before the Bellevue commission for a third time in an attempt to persuade members to recommend approval of the school, planned for a spot near Fort Crook and Childs Roads.
Planning Commission members said it would be dangerous for students to cross nearby train tracks and Fort Crook Road, which has six driving lanes and turn lanes at its intersection with Childs Road.
OPS bought the land for the school in 2017 for $312,280, according to property records. The school, which would serve approximately 600 students, is scheduled to open in August 2021.
Officials from the school district, which serves a large part of Omaha and a portion of Bellevue, previously had gone before the commission July 25 and Aug. 22. Each time, however, members delayed voting on a recommendation in order to allow OPS to address safety concerns.
Lisa Sterba, chief operations officer for OPS, told Bellevue officials in a letter that the district would provide transportation to students living within the one-mile walk zone on the east side of Fort Crook Road.
Students who live more than a mile away from a school are provided transportation through the district’s Student Assignment Plan.
Busing would cost the district more than $108,000 a year, said David Kramer, an attorney representing OPS.
Sterba said the district would educate students and parents about safety and discourage them from walking across Fort Crook Road.
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Tom Ackley, a Planning Commission member, said, “I have no doubt it would be a fantastic school. It’s just not in the right place.”
Kramer said the district has limited site options in Bellevue. “And we’d like to put a school in Bellevue to ensure that the students we serve here are served without having to go sit on a bus for an extended period of time.”
Despite OPS officials’ attempts to alleviate their concerns, the commission members voted 6-1 to recommend that the Bellevue City Council deny the rezoning and a conditional use permit that would allow OPS to build the school.
The Bellevue Planning Department had recommended that the project be approved.
The City Council will have the final say. A Bellevue official said the matter will come before the council for the first time later this month.
City-approved demolition work already is underway at the elementary school site, but the project’s timeline could be delayed, OPS spokesman Jeremy Maskel said Wednesday.
“For the past two months, we have worked collaboratively with the Planning Department to address the concerns raised by the Planning Commission,” Maskel said. “We made a number of changes to our application, and we appreciate that city staff recommended approval of our project.”
Maskel said the district looks forward to being heard by the Bellevue City Council.
The $421 million school bond program approved by OPS voters in 2014 included $30.1 million for land acquisition and design for two elementary schools and two high schools. The 2018 bond issue is allowing the district to build the new schools.
This report includes material from the World-Herald News Service.