Columbus Schools street closure set for public hearing

By: 
Mikaela Koski
Thursday, August 9, 2018

A Resolution of Intent to vacate a portion of Third Street North between properties owned by the Columbus School District passed with a 3-1 vote.

The resolution details how “the title to the vacated street shall revert to the City of Columbus if the vacated street ceases to be used for school purposes” and, if approved, the street would be vacated officially on April 1, 2019.

The function of a Resolution of Intent is to begin the process of adopting a resolution, and the text of the resolution sets the date for the public hearing on the issue for Tuesday, Sept. 4, at 7 p.m.

Columbus Superintendent Jeff Bermes gave a presentation to the council on June 18 detailing the plans for the elementary school expansion, and how the vacated portion of the street would be included in an extended playground area.

Later that month, on June 29, the city received an official petition from the school district requesting that the city vacate the section of Third Street North that lies between the properties owned by the district. The petition contained 100 percent of the owners of lots on that segment of the street, as the school district owns all of them.

The school plans to seek the bond levy for the school expansion project in November, and Bermes told the council that the school requests the street be vacated regardless of whether the bond passes. If the bond were to not pass, the school would utilize the vacated street as traffic control, due to extremely busy and crowded drop-off and pick-up times.

Alderman Danen Johannes, a Columbus Middle School teacher, explained that regardless of whether the bond passes, the school will be utilizing the properties across from the elementary school as playground space. If the street were to not be vacated, the students would have to cross the street, possibly multiple times a day.

Councilmen Terry Nystul and Paul Edwards said they wanted to wait on adopting the resolution of intent. Edwards noted that if the bond issue were to fail, he would not want the street to be closed.

Johannes emphasized that closing the street is a safety issue for the kids, as the additional school properties will be used regardless. He noted that currently the street is not widely used, and if closed, people would be able to make the adjustment.

Alderman Bob Fitzgerald said he would like to hear what the public has to say, noting that “all the cards are still in our pocket.” He explained that the elementary school is currently bursting at the seams, and the issue of closing the street needs to be presented to the public for input.

Johannes, Fitzgerald, and Edwards voted to begin the resolution process by adopting the Resolution of Intent; Nystul voted against it. Council members Patty Sundberg and Jon Brown were absent.

The following business was also conducted at Monday’s regularly scheduled Columbus City Council meeting:

COLUMBUS AIRPORT PROJECT

The council approved a FAA grant amendment request, as well as the transfer of entitlements from Turner Airport to Woltermann Memorial Airport in Columbus.

During the Columbus airport’s current airfield pavement and electrical rehab project, the ground was found to be spongier than anticipated, so several change orders have occurred to alter the original plans. The change in plans has led to an increase in the cost of the project.

The grant amendment request approved by the council adds $157,051 of federal funding to the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) grant that is covering a large portion of the project costs.

Ninety percent of the total cost of the Columbus airport project is funded through the FAA grant. The City of Columbus and Stillwater County evenly divide the remaining 10 percent of the costs.

The transfer of entitlements from Turner Airport in Blaine County is a reciprocal transfer of $20,000. Blaine County chose to transfer the money because the Columbus airport is currently undergoing a project and the funds could be utilized.

City Attorney Doug Howard explained that the reciprocal nature of the transfer means that in the future, the Columbus airport will transfer $20,000 back to Turner Airport. Mayor Gary Woltermann noted that in the past, the Columbus airport was involved in a similar kind of entitlement transfer with the Three Forks airport.

NEW CROSSWALK

Fitzgerald raised the possibility of adding a crosswalk at the intersection of East Fourth Avenue North and North Ninth Street. This is the intersection by the Sports Hut and Family Dollar.

A citizen approached him with the idea, Fitzgerald explained, and he thinks it would be good for the city to look into the matter. A growing number of kids cross busy Ninth Street when walking home after school, and Fitzgerald said adding some kind of crosswalk would help ensure their safety.

Mayor Woltermann showed his support for the idea, saying a crosswalk or some kind of flashing light would be very helpful. He mentioned that the current location of Ninth Street (the road connecting Columbus to the interstate) was chosen to avoid the walking paths of a large number of school children. Now that the town has grown, the kids’ safety is no less important and providing a safe way for them to cross the road is crucial.

Public Works Superintendent Dennis Holten said he would get in touch with a traffic engineer out of Billings to see what steps the city should take.

VEBA RESOLUTION

Approval was given for the city to participate in Montana’s Voluntary Employees’ Beneficiary Association Health Reimbursement Account (VEBA HRA) until next August.

According to the city’s resolution, “the Plan will be funded by Employer contributions, which will consist of 25 percent sick-leave and 100 percent annual leave.”

The VEBA HRA accounts will be available to “retirement eligible” city employees. The city will make tax-free contributions into the VEBA HRA account, and the employees can reimburse certain eligible out-of-pocket healthcare costs.

PUBLIC WORKS

WATER: Holten continues to work on the details of the water replacement project with Interstate Engineering. He reported that it has been determined that there will be approximately 8,000 feet in the plan and it will cost an estimated $1.9 million.

Holten acknowledged that while the whole project will probably not be completed at one time, the city will at least have the plans for the entire project ready for the construction of future segments.

SEWER: The UV unit at the wastewater treatment facility will be receiving an upgrade; most of the necessary parts have already been obtained by the city.

STREETS: During the last couple storms, the Public Works crew cleared some drain inlets and branches.

Street patching occurred in several places around town, and Holten said work on shoulder and drainage area problems continues.

ZONING PERMITS: Holten contacted some property owners around Columbus regarding the need for zoning permits when building accessory structures such as carports, gazebos, and sheds. He has some owners on his list who will be contacted soon.

ZONING AMENDMENTS: A public hearing was held by the City-County Planning Board on July 24 regarding proposed zoning amendments. The Zoning Commission approved the amendments with two small recommended changes.

Those changes were accepted by the city council, and approval was given for Howard to draft an ordinance codifying the updated amendments.

CITY ATTORNEY

In the last three weeks, Howard worked on nine criminal cases pending in Columbus City Court. He also reviewed the Columbus airport project documents and prepared the Resolution of Intent to vacate a portion of Third Street North for the elementary school building project.

ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT BOARD

The council agreed to give a recommendation to Nystul. He is applying for a position on the Economic Development Board.

CFR AND CPD

Both Fire Chief Rich Cowger and Police Chief Jacob Ward were not present at the meeting and did not submit written reports.

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