Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Hailey P&Z snuffs charter school plan

Would-be neighbors overwhelmingly oppose location

Express Staff Writer

This schematic shows the preliminary design of the Syringa Mountain School building that was proposed for construction in the China Gardens and Sherwood Forest residential area of west Hailey. Courtesy schematic by Graham Whipple Architect, Leed AP

    Some 100 residents of the China Gardens and Sherwood Forest subdivisions in western Hailey flocked to a Monday night meeting of the city’s Planning and Zoning Commission to oppose the building of a new charter school in their neighborhood.
    Ultimately, they prevailed, as the P&Z Commission voted unanimously to reject the design review application of Syringa Mountain School, determining that constructing a school building in the residential area could jeopardize the health, safety and welfare of the public.
    The P&Z further determined that the school had not adequately addressed numerous concerns of city officials, including a landscaping plan deemed unsafe by city police, non-conformity with buildings in the surrounding neighborhood, inadequate off-street parking and an incomplete lighting design plan.
    “I’m concerned that there are so many concerns in the staff report,” said P&Z Chairman Jay Cone.
    Syringa Mountain School, which intends to open for the 2014-2015 school year, had proposed in its application the construction of a 35-foot high, two-story, 12,000-square-foot building on an undeveloped 3.04 acre property on Aspen Drive, between the China Gardens and Sherwood Forest subdivisions.
    Initially, school officials hope for an enrollment of 165-190 students in grades K-5, expanding to grades K-8 by the start of school in 2017 with an enrollment of 240 students. However, the school’s charter allows for a student population of up to 480.
    Syringa will use the Waldorf education methodology, which is described in the school’s literature as providing an “academically rigorous liberal arts curriculum presented in a developmentally and arts-integrated context. The method emphasizes educating the whole child—head, heart and hands—through sustainable living, gardening, farming, experiential learning and minimal use of technology in the early grades.”
    In a presentation at Monday’s P&Z meeting, Syringa School board Vice Chair Greg Bloomfield said the school will draw new residents to the area.
    “We feel like it will be a value added to the community,” Bloomfield said.
    Hailey Community Development Director Micah Austin said there was significant public interest in the school, noting that his office as of Monday afternoon had received 67 written comments. He said 32, or 48 percent, were in favor of building the school at the proposed location, while 35, or 52 percent were opposed.
    “Those that were opposed, for the most part, left their addresses and most of them are local to the area,” Austin said.

It was a chance to hear from the neighbors. But that doesn’t change our mission to bring the school to the valley. It’s just a bump in the road.”
Laurie Wertich
Syringa Mountain School

    However, the ratio of those in favor to those opposed was much different during the public comment portion of the meeting, with nearly all of some 30 commenters speaking against the proposal.
    “There will just be too much traffic in the area,” said resident Steve Cross, noting that the problem would only get worse as the school population increased.
    “This building is out of scale,” said former Hailey Mayor Susan McBryant. “Clearly, they intend to bring animals to this site.”
    David Harrison described the building as an “industrial-type development” that was out of place and character for the neighborhood.
    There were also concerns about the school being in a flood plain, its proximity to the Big Wood River, the possibility of decreased property values and the possibility of a large derelict building in the neighborhood if the charter school should fail.
    In an interview Tuesday, Syringa School board member and spokeswoman Laurie Wertich said the board is undecided on its next move.
    “I think the plan is to regroup; that’s all we can do,” Wertich said. “We have options. We could resubmit, but that’s something we haven’t had a chance to talk about as a board.”
    Wertich said she was not surprised by the large turnout and noted that while most were opposed to the location, no one spoke against formation of the school.
    “I think it was fine,” she said. “It was a chance to hear from the neighbors. But that doesn’t change our mission to bring the school to the valley. It’s just a bump in the road.
Terry Smith:

    Express staff writer Tony Evans contributed to this report.

Charter schools
A charter school is a state-funded school that offers parents an alternative to teaching methods in conventional public schools. The formation of charter schools in Idaho was authorized in 1998 when the state Legislature approved the Public Charter Schools Act.
As with a school district, charter schools receive state funding on a per-student basis. However, charter schools are not allowed to levy property taxes, so they also rely heavily on donations.
The formation of Syringa Mountain School, Blaine County’s only charter school, was authorized in August 2013 by the Idaho Public Charter School Commission. The school is currently accepting students and intends to open for the 2014-2015 school year. There are nearly 50 charter schools in Idaho.


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