ERIE, Colo. (CBS4) – The Boulder Valley School District says its plan to build a new, 750-student, K-8 school in Erie will likely be delayed, or discontinued, if an oil and gas development company does not agree to promise not to drill near the proposed campus.
The district plans to build the school to handle rapid growth in the eastern portions of Boulder County. In 2013, school district superintendent Bruce Messinger says the district entered into an agreement with the developer of Flatiron Meadows on Erie Parkway, between 111th and 119th streets, to set aside 15-acres of land for a planned 100,000 square foot Erie campus. Currently, students living in Erie attend Lafayette schools.
Kerr-McGee Oil & Gas Onshore LP, a subsidiary of Anadarko Petroleum Corp., has owned surface use rights to a parcel of land on the Flatiron Meadows development since 2007, says Anardarko public affairs manager for the Rockies division Robin Olsen. At the time it entered into a contract with the now former developer of Flatirons Meadows, details of the agreement were disclosed publicly. Olsen says the original developer also committed to letting anyone interested in acquiring a piece of the Flatiron Meadows neighborhood of the potential for future oil and gas operations.
Messinger says the district was aware of possible drilling activity when it chose the site in 2013, believing its plan for the school would meet Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission guidelines requiring the building be at least 500 feet from the nearest oil and gas development site.
Later that year, however, shortly after BVSD decided on its plan, the COGCC changed its rules, doubling its required setback to 1000 feet, and placing the district’s plan in jeopardy.
On Tuesday, Messinger went public about discussions he says have been ongoing for months between the Flatirons Meadows developer, the Town of Erie, and an Anadarko representative, revealing the district has asked Anadarko to agree to not use the adjacent site for oil and gas development in order to let the proposed school project move forward.
“We understand it’s an asset, it has value to them,” Messinger said Tuesday. “And yet we also realize this conflict exists.”
He wants to reach an agreement “to be absolutely safe,” adding that he is looking for a deal “that says we don’t have to worry about this site being developed both now and in the future.” Without such deal, Messinger considers the project too risky.
Parents have expressed frustration that a deal has not yet been reached. The school district has already spent hundreds of thousands of dollars planning to build the new school, creating site plans and conducting soil tests. The project has been estimated to cost nearly $40 million.
Liz Austin, a mother of two who purchased a home in Flatiron Meadows in part because she was told her daughters would one day have a neighborhood school to attend, wants oil and gas developers to step aside.
“I would love to see that Anadarko can move on and see the bigger picture here,” Austin said. “That kids’ education is more important than another oil well.”
Oslen told CBS4 Andarko and its subsidiary are willing to move any future operation in favor of allowing the school project to continue. In return, they want the developer to provide Anadarko with an alternative parcel, away from the school. Olsen says so far, the developer has not provided one.
“We understand the concern in the community, and we want to maintain the good relationships we’ve worked to earn in communities like Erie, where a number of our employees live,” a statement Olsen provided states. “We are currently in talks with the developer in an effort to find mutually acceptable locations for our operations, if available, that will enable all parties to move forward, safely and with as few disruptions as possible.”
Hines Interests took over development of the Flatiron Meadows site in October.
In a statement provided to CBS4 by spokesman Mark Clegg, Hines said: “Since taking over this project on Oct. 30, 2015, Hines has been committed to delivering one of the premiere residential communities in Erie and Boulder County. A neighborhood school is obviously one of the biggest draws to homeowners and this is an issue we take very seriously. We are committed to working with the Boulder Valley School District, Anadarko, the town of Erie and our new residents to find a win-win situation for all.”
Despite the lack of agreement thus far, Austin says she remains hopeful. The district hopes to reach an agreement in time to break ground on the school by March and open to students by August 2017.
“We need to know by later this spring if we’ve got an agreement,” Messinger said, “Because we need to quit investing money into this project.”