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Sports fields OK'd for new high school at South Cooper site

City council gives thumbs up, adds new conditions

TIMES FILE PHOTO - The city of Beaverton's Steven Sparks points on the map where the new South Cooper Mountain high school will be located.Game on.

The Beaverton City Council on Tuesday voted unanimously to uphold a decision that will allow the Beaverton School District to build athletic fields over part of a wetlands area at the site of the new South Cooper Mountain high school.

The council’s decision, which came at the end of a four-hour session dedicated almost solely to the issue, approved a conditional use permit allowing more than two acres of a larger wetlands area to be filled for use as athletic fields.

The vote upheld a previous decision by the Beaverton Planning Commission and simultaneously denied appeals by one neighboring property owner and the Tualatin Riverkeepers, an advocacy group aimed at protecting wetlands and streams in the Tualatin River watershed.This artist's rendering shows what the exterior of the as-yet-unnamed school will look like.

In voicing their support for the approval, city councilors shared sympathy for some of the appellants’ environmental concerns and tasked the Beaverton School District with sorting out boundary issues between itself and the Hillsboro School District. The two districts are discussing the possibility of swapping territory in the South Cooper Mountain and South Hillsboro areas so that each community is served by a single school district.

Council president Mark Fagin said he understood that schools and the environment were both passionate issues for people, adding that, “When they collide, it’s dicey.” He went on to say that the council takes its role as steward of the wetlands and environment seriously.

Regarding the Beaverton-Hillsboro boundary issue, councilor Mark San Soucie said, “The boundary issue is of high importance to the city of Beaverton. We will, politely, be hounding (the Beaverton School District) over the next six months until” the issue is resolved.

While the school district left with what it wanted — the go-ahead to build athletic fields over a portion of an area known as Wetland A at the narrow northern tip of the school site, just west of Southwest 175th Avenue — the decision came with a couple new conditions, the first regarding artificial turf on the new athletic fields, and the second regarding the necessity to have a right of way vacated along the old 175th Avenue.

All turf, all the time

As to that first condition, the city council will require all athletic fields at the new school site to be built with artificial turf surfaces. BSD had previously planned to install artificial turf surfaces on all the fields at the new school, but later backed away from that as costs associated with the project continued to rise; entering Monday’s meeting, the information provided to city councilors showed that artificial turf would be installed only on the school’s stadium field, while all other fields would feature natural grass surfaces.

Councilors Lacey Beaty and Betty Bode, however, said that arrangement raised issues of fairness between boys and girls athletics, as well as potential compliance issues with Title IX.

“Equity should have been the first one out of the gate,” Bode said. “I want it all to be equal and I don’t see it here. It looks more like Title 4 1/2 to me.”

Dick Steinbrugge, the school district’s executive administrator for facilities, said the district had already reconsidered and would put a new proposal — one that will include artificial turf on all athletic fields — before the Beaverton School Board at its Aug. 31 meeting.

Boundaries and communities

Attorney David J. Hunnicutt, speaking on behalf of property owner Ed Bartholemy, said their objections to the new sports fields were three-fold. First, he said the new school — because of its proximity to the Hillsboro School District boundary — would not well serve the residential areas which will be built in the South Cooper Mountain area; he asserted that many school-age residents of the new area would be bused 10 miles to Hillsboro High School rather than attending the new school next door.

Second, Hunnicutt said that a new collector street planned to be built partially on Bartholemy’s property would not be allowed because of current zoning laws. And third, he said that Beaverton School District’s plan was untenable because it had not yet worked with Washington County to vacate the right of way on the old 175th Avenue.

In a response later in the meeting, Beaverton School District Superintendent Jeff Rose detailed the status of ongoing meetings between the Beaverton and Hillsboro school districts regarding what they eventually hope will result in a land swap. Rose said the two districts’ goal was to have the boundary issue settled by the end of 2015.

Further, Steven Sparks, principal planner for the city of Beaverton, said that even under the current boundaries, at least half of all new South Cooper Mountain residents already fall within BSD boundaries.

In answer to challenges about the new collector street and the right of way vacation for the old 175th Avenue, Sparks said he saw no problem in building the collector street, adding that zoning changes and variances are expected in a project of this size. As to the right of way issue, BSD staff explained that it was working with Washington County on the issue, and Sparks noted that the district had approximately two years to resolve the matter before it came time to record a final plat for the site.

Covering wetlands, saving wetlands

In support of the Tualatin Riverkeepers’ appeal, Brian Wegener — Advocacy Manager and Riverkeeper for the group — emphasized that the city of Beaverton was responsible for care of the wetlands at the school site, telling the council that it should not “punt local protection of wetlands” to Clean Water Services, the Department of State Lands or the Army Corps of Engineers.

Further, he urged the council to adhere to the rules in its own comprehensive plan and the South Cooper Mountain Concept Plan, both of which acknowledge the importance of the wetlands on the new high school site.

The council, however, was not swayed by Wegener’s testimony, with San Soucie citing the district’s plans to improve the remaining wetlands on site, and its contribution to the Butler Wetland Mitigation Bank two miles away.

Beaty agreed.

“This balances wetlands and sports,” she said, adding that the school district was both improving the wetlands on site and making a significant contribution to the mitigation site.