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Tiffin extends olive branch, request to CCA schools

Mayor asks CCA for favor
Tiffin Mayor Steve Berner asked the Clear Creek Amana school board of directors to consider deeding a section of land at the high school to the city for a proposed housing and commercial development during the board’s regular monthly meeting, Wednesday, Oct. 16, at Clear Creek Elementary in Oxford. (Photo by Chris Umscheid)

By Chris Umscheid
North Liberty Leader

OXFORD– Steve Berner didn’t quite get what he wanted for the city of Tiffin, but it was a step forward.
The Tiffin mayor addressed the board of directors for the Clear Creek Amana (CCA) school district during the board’s regular monthly meeting Wed., Oct. 16, in Oxford. The City of Tiffin is hoping the district will deed some land on the western edge of the CCA campus to the city for an intersection of U.S. Highway 6 and a road into the Deerview development.
“The city has stated, and Steve (Berner) told me today the council has taken action to approv, and that they would pay for the price difference between a six-foot and an eight-foot sidewalk between the high school and the new Ireland Avenue, when that goes through,” CCA superintendent Tim Kuehl told the board. Board member Terry Davis raised an immediate concern.
“We’re approving a contract, so do we have contract to look at?” Davis asked.
Kuehl said there is no actual written contract at this time; however the council had taken official action, which prompted board president Steve Swenka to ask if calling it an agreement rather than a contract would be more appropriate. Davis was not interested.
“For me it’s way too vague. I don’t have the contract to look at, so I don’t know what the monetary value of that is. I don’t know the time frame of that. So, for me, that doesn’t really do anything,” Davis said.
Board member Jim Seelman said the board and the city still have much to discuss, and expressed his great discouragement upon learning of the city’s plan to abandon the beleaguered, controversial and expensive pedestrian tunnel under Highway 6.
Berner offered an olive branch, expressing a desire for a better relationship between the city and the district, citing past tensions between the two entities a few years earlier. Berner also said he wants to see the city and the district enter into a 28E agreement for the proposed sidewalk and land acquisition.
“As some of you are probably aware, there’s been a very stressed relationship between the school and the City of Tiffin in the past,” Berner said. “I want to go forward, and work with the school and the City of Tiffin for both of us to benefit,” Berner said. He addressed the tunnel, reviewing the history and the city’s expenditure of about $90,000 when the highway was widened and paved for the high school. “We are trying to get walk-ability done in our town, which also benefits the school, so we were working on a trail on the north side of Highway 6,” Berner said, but the cost is prohibitive for the amount of people and students that would walk that trail.
The city’s revised plan is to cross the highway at the new intersection, and work with the school for a trail on CCA’s side. Berner said the city is interested in helping the school with the sidewalk, “because that’s going to be our trail.”
The mayor said he’s hoping for a full four-way stop at the intersection of Deerview and Highway 6, like the one planned for Ireland Avenue when it is finally built. Council members had been pushing for stoplights to increase pedestrian safety, but were denied by the Iowa Department of Transportation (IDOT).
Berner told the board a four-way intersection with the highway would make a four-way stop possible, but without it, the IDOT would be less likely to approve any traffic control measures. The proposed street would also serve as a second entrance to the new Prairie Trails West subdivision, a requirement for that development.
Kuehl steered Berner back to the tunnel.
“So are we just out the tunnel?” asked Kuehl.
Berner said the council decided, due to the cost of running a sidewalk on the north to the tunnel, they would ask for a five-year extension from the IDOT to keep it closed.
“Whenever we get some cooperation from the owners (on the north side),” Berner said, it could eventually be opened. “Three-quarters of a million dollars is what we’re looking at for that sidewalk,” Berner noted.
After the extension expires, the city could ultimately fill in the tunnel, permanently closing it. “I don’t want to,” Berner said.
As for the quarter of an acre of landed needed to construct Deerview Avenue, Berner noted it would have to be surveyed, and offered the city to pick up the cost if the district is willing to enter into the 28E agreement.
“We don’t want the school to pay any money out-of-pocket other than the sidewalk,” Berner said. He asked why the sidewalk along the high school was never built in the first place. Board member Kevin Kinney said the goal was to keep the students away from the highway.
Board member Eileen Schmidt expressed her concerns with the proposal and her desire for a positive relationship with the city.
“What happened in the past is in the past,” Schmidt said. “It’s not that I don’t trust you Steve, or your council, but I don’t want to go backwards either. I think that we need a black and white contract stating everything before moving forward with you. It’s too vague.”
Swenka agreed. “It’s too much of an open book,” he said.
Berner agreed that a 28E agreement would nail down the details.
The school board may take action on the proposal at its Nov. 13 meeting at Clear Creek Elementary in Oxford. A work session is scheduled for 6 p.m., with the regular monthly meeting to follow at 7 p.m. Both meetings are open to the public.