Toll Gates toll

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 Messenger photo by Rachel Scofield
 Unstable soil at the future home of Toll Gate Elementary and Middle Schools has cost the district nearly $300,000.  Trying to build through what Assistant Superintendent Lewis Stemen called the "wettest winter around here in years" compounded the problem, but now the project is "back on track and things are moving."

Pickerington Local Schools have spent nearly $300,000 to stabilize the soil at the site of the new Toll Gate elementary and middle school.

Although the project remains under budget, Pickerington Board of Education member Lee Gray sought an explanation for the additional costs since he was not involved with the project from the start.

"To me it’s important to ask the question of why (do we have to pay the extra fees)," Gray said. "It’s my responsibility not to waste taxpayer money."

Gray learned that the district originally researched four properties as possible sites for the two schools and of these the Nicodemus property at the corner of Toll Gate and Refugee roads was the only one the architect advised against due to the condition of the soil.

Gray does not know why district officials decided to purchase the Nicodemus property anyway and he did not want to speculate. Possible reasons may have been that the other properties were unavailable or would have required long bus rides.

Initially Gray thought the construction problems lay with the architects at Steed Hammond Paul or with the contractors at Ruscilli Construction, but he now acknowledges that both organizations are not at fault.

"They’re off the hook," Gray said. "They are just playing the hand they were dealt (and performing) a real good job."

Pickerington Assistant Superintendent Lewis Stemen said soil problems like that at Toll Gate are not uncommon.

"There are lots of places in this part of the state that are basically built on clay." Stemen said.

Roger McLoney of Ruscilli said the unstable soil had less to do with an existing problem and more to do with government red tape that pushed construction into the wet autumn and winter months.

As opposed to the new Sycamore Creek Elementary the district is building in the city of Pickerington, the Toll Gate location lays within the unincorporated portion of Violet Township. While the Sycamore project sought building approvals through the city, the Toll Gate project needed the approval of Violet Township, the Fairfield Regional Planning Commission and the Fairfield County Engineers.

Sycamore began construction in the dry month of August and Toll Gate began in the damp month of October.

"Time wise has a big deal to do with it – no question," Stemen said. "At Sycamore we were up and running and got through the initial hoops a little faster."

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