The new preschool should be built at Scarboro Park, the Oak Ridge Board of Education said in a unanimous vote on Monday.
The site selection in a 5-0 voice vote came after about 15 minutes of discussion during a school board meeting on Monday.
The other option was Elm Grove Park. That park on East Tennessee Avenue in east Oak Ridge had been identified as the preferred site after a preschool report was published in October 2015.
With one exception, school board members said the two sites are relatively equal as measured by a number of factors outlined by BOE Vice Chair Bob Eby, including learning environment, building and transportation costs, safety and security, expandability and impact on parks, and community and City Council support. The one significant difference: There has been opposition to building the new preschool at Elm Grove Park, while the Scarboro community has welcomed the idea of building the new preschool at Scarboro Park.
“The difference is very stark,” Oak Ridge Board of Education member Angi Agle said. “The community support from Scarboro does make a huge difference.”
“It becomes a very simple choice,” said school board member Paige Marshall. “Members of the Scarboro community, hands down, want the preschool there.”
The Oak Ridge City Council will also consider the site selection during a March 13 meeting, although officials aren’t expecting City Council members to oppose the school board’s site selection.
Scarboro Park is across Carver Avenue from the Scarboro Community Center. The city-owned Community Center had also been briefly considered after a day care center closed there last fall.
But Oak Ridge Board of Education Chair Keys Fillauer said expanding the Scarboro Community Center would require “stair stepping and filling,” essentially work to move dirt and level the site. That’s not cost-effective and not great for the preschool, Fillauer said. Also, the administrative area and gymnasium at Scarboro Community Center would still be used during the day, and the preschool couldn’t be attached to those areas, Fillauer said.
Officials have received a preliminary cost estimate of about $9.1 million for the preschool, with the costs about the same for either park.
Elm Grove Park and Scarboro Community Center were both discussed at a joint work session between the Oak Ridge Board of Education and Oak Ridge City Council on Thursday, January 26. Conceptual site plans and public safety statistics were presented to the two boards.
The conceptual site plans were done by Studio Four Design.
Plans call for the new preschool to have 20 rooms, and possibly allow for expansion. A new preschool has been on the city’s wish list for many years.
On Monday, Fillauer said a joint city-schools committee that was formed about two years ago, before the report was issued in October 2015, had looked at about 20 sites, some owned by the city and some privately owned, with some of them vacant properties and some already occupied by buildings.
But there are regulations that govern what has to be in a preschool building as well as the building itself, Fillauer said.
“That eliminates some potential buildings that are already standing that may not currently be (in use),” he said.
Officials have learned more about the sites, including through drilling and engineering; working with Studio Four Design; and by discussing public safety with Oak Ridge Fire Chief Darryl Kerley and Police Chief Jim Akagi.
“We have done a very thorough and exhaustive, I feel, review and study since this started almost two years ago,” Fillauer said.
Efforts to build a new preschool date back even further, to the mid-1980s. Officials have said the current preschool on New York Avenue is in a building constructed about 70 years ago in what was supposed to be a temporary structure.
The current building can no longer house the preschool and meet codes that are in place for preschools, Fillauer said.
One thing has been consistent among those who have contacted school board members, whether they prefer Elm Grove Park or Scarboro Park: “The support for the preschool has been unwavering,” Fillauer said.
More information will be added as it becomes available.
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