They had to move a trio of buildings, parking spaces and a pool to do it, but officials of the Phoenix Ranch School finally came up with an expansion plan that met the approval of the city's Planning Commission.
At a public hearing Wednesday that drew more than 40 area residents, the commission approved plans to add classrooms and parking to the private school near Los Angeles Avenue and Oak Road.
The project had been redesigned since its last appearance before the commission in August. Commissioners asked for the changes, prompted by neighbors' complaints that the expansion as originally planned would fill their streets with cars and noise.
Commission Chairman Dean Kunicki said the changes improved the plan. "Sometimes when these things are sent back and rethought out, you come back with a better project," he said.
School owner and administrator Frances Alascano said she was glad the long approval process was finally over. "I am very pleased," she said. "It was a tough project. It's been a long time coming."
The approval, however, dismayed some neighbors attending Wednesday's hearing.
"We feel it just doesn't interface with the surrounding land uses. It just doesn't fit, it's too much," said Gary Bright, who lives just south of the school property.
The project, which Alascano estimated would take three years and between $275,000 and $300,000 to complete, will add three modular buildings to the school and expand an existing building. Also included are a pool for students and 48 parking spaces for teachers and visitors.
With added classrooms, enrollment is expected to increase from 177 to 287 students. The school serves students from preschool through fourth grade and would begin to offer fifth and sixth grades after the expansion.
Since August, school officials have switched the location of the proposed kindergarten building west of Oak Road, moving it farther away from existing houses and a mobile home park to the south. A circular driveway has been proposed for a parking lot off Shunk Road to prevent drivers from backing out into the road.
"The building flip on the west site makes tremendous sense, because it takes noise and children away from the mobile home park," Kunicki said.
Without the changes, Commissioner Michael Piper said, the project probably would not have won approval. "They had a bad design--there's no kind way to put it," he said. "It would not have passed."
Some neighbors said that even with the redesign, additional students will increase noise and traffic congestion. Curt Atwell, owner of the Crest Mobile Home Village, just south of the school on Shunk Road, said residents already have complained of drivers entering Shunk from the existing school property and paying little attention to traffic or pedestrians coming from the south.
One resident recently told him that a car exiting school property had come within a few feet of hitting her as she was pushing her great-granddaughter along in a stroller.
"They don't look," Atwell said. "I'm not saying they're reckless drivers, but I don't think half of them even know we're down here."
Provided no one appeals the decision, Alascano said, she hopes to move ahead with the project in 15 days. The first modular building could be ready for students after three or four weeks of work, she said.
That will come as good news to 22 Phoenix students who, since the beginning of the school year, have attended third- and fourth-grade classes off campus. With no space for them at the Phoenix school's current facilities, another local private school has let them use classroom space until the expansion project can begin.
Alascano said the off-campus students could be back on campus by Christmas.
"Wouldn't that be a great present?" she said. "That's what all of the kids say, 'Can we come home for Christmas?' "