Hopewell Elementary school site forges ahead despite protests, petition from Last Forest group

The Park Hill Board of Education last week approved its master plan for the Hopewell Elementary School site, despite protests from a group of residents concerned about conservation of what they consider “Kansas City’s last forest.”

At the Thursday, May 10 board of education meeting, the board accepted public input before its unanimous vote, with seven people speaking up. While a few were in support of the site plan, located at Northwest 68th Street and Waukomis Drive, including a representative of the Northland Regional Chamber of Commerce, others were less supportive.

“On behalf of the nearly 8,200 people who have signed our petition I would like to urge you not to approve the current master plan for development in the forest,” said Julie Stutterheim, who has spearheaded the Last Forest initiative. “I would encourage you to instead consider an alternate location for the northern schools, one not located in the oldest, healthiest part of the forest. A plan that would ensure some of the last remaining original forest within Kansas City and Platte County will be protected for generations to come.”

She urged the district to work to preserve the woodland and said she believes future school development plans should include a public input process.

In 2012, a long-range district facilities planning initiative failed to launch due to lack of public interest, forcing the district to retool its process. The district started its current long-term facilities plan in 2013, and at that time hosted several open houses, focus groups and a constituent survey. That plan was approved in 2015, with the board identifying the need to build new facilities to address overcrowding. The about 270 acres at 68th and Waukomis were purchased in April 2017 for $3 million, with the planning process for the 11th elementary school — now named Hopewell — and the LEAD Innovation Studio high school program starting soon thereafter. Also in April 2017, district voters passed a $110 million bond issue to build these facilities, also including a fourth middle school — Walden Middle School — which is now under construction.

In October 2017, Stutterheim launched the lastkcforest.com site and online petition on change.org, which has been featured in several local media outlets over the last six months. In March, Stutterheim and other concerned citizens met with Park Hill assistant superintendent Paul Kelly. The preservation group has said it supports construction of Hopewell Elementary, but questions the location of LEAD, which could be renovated into a third district high school should future enrollment continue to climb.

In the site plan, the district has placed LEAD further north into the property, creating the need to cut a roadway through the forest to the school as well. The group hoped the district would consider moving the LEAD center/new high school closer to the elementary school to preserve more woodland.

Additionally, the group hoped the district would agree to a plan to permanently preserve the more than 100 acres of land not currently needed for school construction.

According to Stutterheim, on the lastkcforest.com blog, the district was unaware of the ecological uniqueness of the woodland in question, and if this is the case decisions may have been made with incomplete information during the long-range facilities planning process.

“We’re disappointed with this decision, but most of all, we’re disappointed this important community issue didn’t warrant an open dialogue with the board and concerned citizens,” Stutterheim said after the vote. “We hope the board understands how valuable and unique this forest is, as ‘some of the last remaining original woodland forest within Kansas City in Platte County,’ and they can count on us to continue to advocate on behalf of forest preservation.”

One speaker, Justin Barton, spoke out against the planned Line Creek Parkway that the City of Kansas City has proposed to build to connect 68th Street to Barry Road. He said he hopes the district will continue to work with the city to eliminate that parkway plan, as an additional north-south connector is not needed at this time.

The Line Creek Trail, which is owned by the City of Kansas City, also lies in this area, and connects to the archeological site just down Waukomis at Frank Vaydik Park. Hopewell school itself is named after the 2,200-year-old Hopewell site. Hopewell is the collective name of several Native American cultures living along rivers in the Midwest from 200 BC to 500 AD.