Flintridge Prep expansion plan to be heard by commissioners; neighbors ready comments

Flintridge Preparatory School officials are proposing a series of campus upgrades they believe will improve the student experience and accommodate 21st-century education while responding to traffic and parking demands, and will soon seek approval from the city’s Planning Commission.

According to documents submitted to the city Planning Department, the 10-year phased building and renovation project includes a new covered atrium on the campus’ southeast corner, upgrades to stadium bleachers and field lighting system as well as the construction of a 17,000-square-foot collaborative leadership building that will offer students lab and creation spaces.

The plan also proposes a 3,900-square-foot addition to the school’s Norris Auditorium, completion of a balcony off the performing arts theater and construction of a 40,000-square-foot, two-story parking structure across Crown Avenue, in the current lot next to St. Bede Church.

Flintridge Prep Headmaster Peter Bachmann said the proposal was developed over several strategic planning sessions. It naturally coincided with the school’s roughly every-10-year review with La Cañada city officials over the terms of the conditional use permit under which the 7-acre site operates.

For the past five years or more, most improvements have taken place within the existing infrastructure. Now, more space is needed to house collaborative work areas and interdisciplinary studies that will better prepare students for college and the workplace, according to Bachmann.

“With everything we’ve done to date, there’s been no building — it’s been all refurbishing and remodeling,” Bachmann said. “We’ve completed the whole campus and we’re thrilled, but it still doesn’t give us that extra space we’re going to need if we’re going to expand these programs.”

On June 27, school officials are scheduled to formally present their proposal to the La Cañada Planning Commission, where commissioners will mainly consider the environmental impacts of the proposal.

They will explain their request to add 30 students, above the CUP’s approved 500. They will also seek variances to permit 70-foot tall permanent field lights that hover over the action, and to shrink setbacks for Norris Auditorium and the parking structure, among others.

Neighbors living on Nancy Way, directly north of Prep’s property line, say they were invited by school officials to look at renderings and details of the proposal and provide feedback. But some of what they saw concerned them.

“A lot of people are worried about their property values,” said Peggy Easter, who shares a home with husband Bob separated from Prep by a narrow, tree-covered utility easement. “That hasn’t bothered me as much as the quality-of-life issue. Seventy-foot lights — that kind of thing is what’s bothersome.”

The Easters have lived on Nancy Way for the past 40 years. They say Flintridge Prep has purchased all the houses adjacent to the school in the past 15 years except theirs and another on Crown Avenue.

Now the couple is worried the school’s expansion plan, which includes the removal of five oak trees in the easement and the three-story collaborative leadership building near the property line, is part of a slow encroachment into their living space.

Mike Wyly has lived on the quiet cul-de-sac for the past 30 years. When he arrived, all the properties were owned by residents.

“That’s all gone away now. It’s kind of become a transient street over the years,” he said, indicating the homes occupied by school employees.

Neighbor Sharlyn French said she asked Bachmann in the early 2000s why Prep was buying up homes and was told it was part of a long-range plan to close Nancy Way and accommodate expansion. Bob Easter said he and Peggy got an offer on their house last year from school leaders interested in expanding the sports field.

“This whole [project] is going to impact us, and there’s no mitigation for the neighbors,” Wyly said.

Bachmann said the school plans to keep the houses as investments and housing for staff who can’t afford La Cañada real estate, although part of the new proposal involves creating a turnaround for emergency personnel that may encroach into the easement.

“Feeling desperately landlocked for anything, we began purchasing homes in 2000. We agreed we would try to buy the houses touching the campus, as many as we could,” Bachmann said, indicating Prep owns seven of those nine properties.

A couple of years ago, he added, there was talk of pushing the football field closer to homes if the properties on the south side of Nancy could all be purchased. But after Prep moved to eight-man football, which uses a smaller field, the plan became “a bygone goal.”

The proposal represents what the headmaster calls an “ambitious” master plan. He anticipates the first phases of work would comprise the highest-priority projects — the atrium, field improvements and collaborative leadership building — estimated to be completed by 2022 at the approximate cost of $20 million.

Other projects, including the parking structure and the accommodation of additional students, would be done if and when the funding became available, if the interest were still there.

“When you seek entitlements, you’re simply seeking permission to do something. It doesn’t mean you have the will to do absolutely everything, nor does it mean you have the financing to do everything,” Bachmann said. “We’re just hoping within a decade that we are given the freedom to control our own destiny.”

If You Go

What: La Cañada Planning Commission meeting

When: June 27 at 6 p.m.

Where: 1327 Foothill Blvd.

More info: Members of the public may submit comments and questions on the Flintridge Prep project through June 16. A project description is available online at www.lcf.ca.gov/home/public-notices, under “Environmental Reviews.” For more, call Susan Koleda at (818) 790-8881.

sara.cardine@latimes.com

Twitter: @SaraCardine

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