Columbia Public Schools and the Missouri Department of Conservation will use 207 acres newly added to the Three Creeks Conservation Area for the district's planned Nature School.

The property, in four tracts, is being donated and sold to the department by former Tribune owner Hank Waters. It includes Waters' home and the sale contract includes a provision allowing him to continue to live there, Waters said Monday.

A memorandum of understanding between the Missouri Conservation Commission and the Columbia Board of Education in May outlined the plans for a nature school, which fifth-graders from Columbia and other Boone County school districts would visit for a five- or 10-day place-based education program. It would feature indoor and outdoor classrooms and no students would be based permanently at the school.

Mike Szydlowski, school district science coordinator, said one barrier to establishing the school was the cost of land around Columbia.

"Finding property was going to be a major roadblock," Szydlowski said. "Hank and his family are making all this a reality."

He said school district and Conservation Department officials celebrated the Waters family on Friday.

"We still have a lot of work to do," Szydlowski said. "This agreement will allow us to have students out there as early as this fall."

Szydlowski said it still may be a few years before a nature school can be built. The agreement calls for a capital campaign to raise a significant portion of the construction cost through private sources.

Three Creeks Conservation Area is on nearly 1,500 acres about halfway between Columbia and Ashland. Turkey Creek, Bass Creek and Bonne Femme Creek run through it and give the area its name.

Waters said the property is in the Deer Park area, not far from the Columbia Airport, where a lot of development was expected. Waters said he could have made a lot of money if he sold it for commercial development, but he wanted to keep it in the public domain.

He said he's glad the property can benefit the school district and the conservation agency.

"They're really excited about it," Waters said of school district officials. "They want to make it an extraordinary experience."

County tax records show the property has an appraised value of $368,190, including $286,700 for the house and $81,490 for the land as currently zoned for agriculture. Land designated for agricultural use is appraised and assessed based on productive potential, not the market value if sold for development.

Joe Jerek, a spokesman for the Conservation Department, said the agency can't release financial information until the transaction is complete in about a month.

The school district had planned to partner with the Missouri Department of Natural Resources when a different nature center idea was proposed in 2013. That project didn't work out.