Park Hill School District’s expansion plans have some residents worried about forest’s future

KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- The Park Hill School Board has given the green light to future school expansion plans Thursday night, but that has residents worried about the impact the plans could have on their neighborhoods.

Julie Stutterheim, with Save The Last KC Forest, loves walking through the trails and forest right behind her home.

“We aren't taking a moment as a community to say, 'Should development occur here?'” Stutterheim said.

She's worried because the area is largely owned by the Park Hill School District and is now slated for major development. On Thursday night, the board voted to develop the land to build new school buildings.

“Our piece of that property is about 280 acres of that land, and if you look to our master plan that we've posted, we are not developing the entire site,” said Paul Kelly, the assistant superintendent for business and technology at the Park Hill School District.

The district is growing rapidly and recently broke ground on Hopewell Elementary -- the district's 11th elementary school. The LEAD innovation studio high school program is also supposed to be built on the land.

“We went through a series of years in which we were trying to find ideal properties, ideal locations, that fit our growth patterns inside of the district,” Kelly said.

But Stutterheim wants the district to only build in the southern part of the area, which is newer and less valuable from a natural resource perspective.

She started an online petition, which now has more than 8,000 signatures.

“We also have to think about the green space and the next generation,” Stutterheim said.

The wooded area runs from Barry Road on the north side, neighborhoods to the west, Coventry Road on the east and 68th Street on the south side.

The Park Hill School District said the land gives them necessary options.

“It`s large enough for multiple campuses, and ultimately, if we continue to grow into the next decade, we could expand,” Kelly said.

Kelly said they've adopted the highest level of sustainability standards for the schools -- and that there's a lot of acreage remaining.

The district is also looking to build as far away from the trail as possible.

“We`ve integrated keeping trees and (are) utilizing best practices to utilize that property and maintain its personality for the students in those facilities,” Kelly said.

“There`s nothing in their plan that promises to conserve any of the forest,” Stutterheim said.

Stutterheim said it`s an incredibly old, healthy forest, and she's worried development won’t stop with the schools.