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Navy plans to extend accident zones near CCISD’s proposed high school campus

The Navy has plans to extend its potential crash zones around airfields in Corpus Christi.

That information was part of a public presentation last night to the Corpus Christi Planning Commission. During that meeting, the Navy repeated its opposition to the location of the new Mary Carroll High School campus, which CCISD plans to build off Saratoga Boulevard near Cabaniss Field.

The Navy made its position clear: Any new developments in high risk areas need to be vetted to protect public safety. The kinds of developments it recommends against include high-density buildings or subdivisions where large numbers of people can gather, including a high school campus.

The Navy calls those high-risk areas “Accident Potential Zones” or “APZs” and the CCISD high school campus planned on Saratoga is in one.

“The recommendation from the Navy was that the school not be built on that property,” said Ben Pollack, planning liaison for Corpus Christi Naval Air Station. “We can only recommend – okay, we cannot direct policy. We can only recommend that things not be built during that time.”

The reason was simple: To avoid mass casualties if a plane were to crash.

More than 50,000 flights happen at Cabaniss Field each year. The planes are flown by student navy pilots in training.

CCISD officials have repeatedly said they received support from the Navy after changing a site plan for the school campus.

The changes came after a meeting with the Navy earlier this year when the Navy raised concerns.

Instead of finding another location, Corpus Christi school officials reconfigured the campus site plan – swapping the school with the athletic fields so that the school building is just outside of the accident potential zone. That leaves the athletic fields still in the path.

While that change helped mitigate the risk, Pollack said it doesn’t eliminate it.

At the meeting last night, planning commissioners learned there are multiple flight paths right over the planned campus.

CCISD’s school board chose the location. A week before Election Day, school leaders finalized the purchase of the 60 acres needed to build the campus.

And on Nov. 6, voters agreed to pay for the new campus, which was included in a $210 million bond package that also will pay for security upgrades at several schools in the district. The estimated cost of the new campus is about $175 million.

As for the vacant land around the airfield, planning commissioners will have a say in what goes there if new development requires a zoning change, and Pollack wanted them to understand the importance of Cabaniss Field and its extension of the APZ zones.

“We really have to be careful with this airfield because this is our only multi-engine airfield that we train Navy marine corps pilots throughout the whole United States,” he said.

The Navy has not contacted school officials since the discussions earlier this year, said Leanne Libby, a spokeswoman for CCISD in an emailed statement. She added that CCISD has “the utmost respect for the military community, and remains glad to visit with officials regarding the site of the new Mary Carroll High School.”

The Navy’s presentation also included the expansion of its accident potential zones around Waldron Field.

Jessica Savage

Jessica Savage

Award-winning investigative reporter who has worked in East Texas and South Texas.
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