Family wants to keep land: Tulsa OK World, 10/8/07

Jenks school officials say tremendous growth means they must take the land owned by one family for more than 100 years

By Sherry Brown

Ree Greenwood did not get to speak to the Jenks school board during a visit last week from her home in Atchison, Kan., but she put the school district on alert that her family is not going to give up its land without a fight.

The Jenks school board voted at its Sept. 10 meeting to proceed with legal condemnation of two properties, including nearly 40 acres co-owned by Greenwood and her sister, north of the district's West campus on 91st Street east of U.S. 75.

The land is what is left of an original 160-acre allotment given in 1903 by the Muscogee (Creek) Nation to Greenwood's grandmother, Carrie E. Gregory.

And although no one has lived on the land for decades, it means a great deal to the family. In the spring, Greenwood and her son worked to preserve one room of the house where her father, Norman Gregory, was born and where she visited every year as a child.

"We would take photographs of the cactus in bloom. Dad would tell stories about when he was a kid up there and the hard times and the good times," she said.

It is hard to find any property on or near the school's West campus that was not once Gregory land, including nearly 70 acres of the campus itself and one housing development to the southeast.

School district officials say acquisition of the family's remaining land is necessary for an expansion of its West campus, which includes an elementary and intermediate school with around 1,900 students enrolled this fall.

Roger Wright, executive administrator for Jenks Public Schools, said the West campus grew by about 500 students in the past three years, which would be considered sizable growth for the entire district, but for one site, it is even more significant.

"That site's growing by a 100-plus students per year," Wright said.

The district recently commissioned a study on student growth and demographics to provide the board and administration with information that will help them plan for continued growth districtwide, but the situation at the West campus does not require a study, and the district must take action now, he said.

The planned addition to the West campus would include at least one school building with classroom space, but Wright said the district has not determined what grades would attend classes there.

Greenwood, who attended the board's meeting on Oct. 1, said she if she had been able to address the members, she would have suggested that the district use the land it already owns along 96th Street, about five blocks from the West campus, for an expansion.

Wright says the property, which includes about 137 acres, was purchased in 1995 with the idea of building a secondary school, but about half of it is in the floodway of Polecat Creek.

"The city of Jenks has told us they have huge concerns if we want to construct a school site there," he said. "And (the school) can't commit that property at 96th to West elementary. That was purchased for a secondary school."

Wright said he is sympathetic to the family, as he comes from an agricultural background himself, but it is the children at West campus he must consider first.

"The best decision is to expand the West campus to the north right across the street; it's not to put it a half-mile away," he said.

Greenwood said she came to town because she wanted the board to know her family was not trying to get more money for their land; it is trying to keep it.

"It's not the money. That's why I wanted to talk to the board, because I don't think they understand. We really don't want to sell the land. We're not just holding out for more money, but if they're going to take it, we're going to fight. They're not going to steal it," she said.

Greenwood said the district offered the family $1 million for the land, but it was not interested.

"We just want them to go away and leave us alone," she said. "It's hard to keep your land; it's easy to get more money."

The district's offer breaks down to about $25,000 per acre, but Greenwood said she has heard of other property in the area, which is in the vicinity of the Tulsa Hills shopping center now under construction, selling for as much as $110,000 an acre.

Wright said any offer the district makes will be fair.

"I can assure you we want to pay them what that property's worth. We've made a fair offer and look forward to further negotiations," he said.

Greenwood and her sister Katherine Overstreet, who co-owns the property, chose legal representation Thursday, Greenwood said.

A meeting between the family's representatives and the school district was set for Friday.

The other tract of land also being condemned by the district is a 12-acre parcel that runs along U.S. 75. The property is owned by Marshaleta and Patrick L. Taylor.

Marshaleta Taylor also attended the Oct. 1 meeting and said afterward that she and her husband have owned the property for three years.

"It's totally different with our 12 acres," she said. "I don't want to sell mine either. I want to rezone it and sell it commercial."

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