After a long and sometimes contentious process, Dreher High School will get its new multipurpose athletics field and tennis courts.
An agreement was reached between Dreher High School and its surrounding neighborhoods for the construction of five new tennis courts and a turf field for boys and girls soccer, varsity football practice and junior varsity football games.
“No one was too proud to compromise,” Columbia mayor Steve Benjamin said Monday, after city staff, Dreher and school district representatives and neighborhood representatives met for about eight hours with a mediator, Judge Thomas Cooper, last Friday. “This is an agreement that will allow young people to enjoy extracurricular activity … and neighbors of Melrose and Heathwood to peacefully enjoy their homes.”
The move was approved by the Richland 1 school board on Monday.
Last month, Columbia City Council members agreed to tentatively approve rezoning Dreher's Millwood Avenue property to a residential classification, which could open the door to the new athletics facilities. But council members stipulated that serious discussions must be held between the school and school district, nearby neighbors and city leaders before a final vote was scheduled to be taken Tuesday.
But that vote won’t need to happen, as the agreement has been reached. Now, instead of rezoning the property, the city will amend the Planned Unit Development agreement, or PUD, which regulates Dreher's campus.
Settling the debate between Dreher and its neighbors "was not a decision for council to make,” Benjamin said. "I had hoped (the compromise) would happen sooner in a much more natural fashion."
Dreher and its neighbors have been discussing the school's proposal for the tennis courts and field for a year and a half now, with no success at the unity or compromise City Council members had hoped to see.
Dreher's plan for the athletics facilities has riled neighbors, who feared the facilities would disrupt their quality of life by increasing noise, light and traffic near their homes. And, they have said, the school is walking back on its PUD agreement that said it would not expand facilities on the 20-acre campus.
Some of the biggest points of the mediation agreement include:
- Shift the field toward the high school building and Daly Street to create a larger buffer zone between school property and neighborhood property lines
- Relocate tennis courts to the southern area where existing band fields sit
- No P.A. system or sound on the scoreboard or battery megaphone
- Bleachers will be limited to 600 seats and 6 feet in height, situated only on the visitors' side of the field
- An increase of trees to block the line of sight and buffer sound, especially on the north side
- Lights would have to be turned off by 9 p.m.
The field will have four 70-foot-high light poles, and the tennis courts eight 30-foot-high light poles
The field will not be used for varsity football games
There is no date yet for when construction might begin on the facility. Benjamin said he expects the PUD amendment to be completed by the end of summer.