School campus improvements are proving a popular subject this summer.
As the La Cañada Unified School District Governing Board prepares to decide whether to put to a public vote a bond measure to fund $101 million of facility improvements on its four campuses, Flintridge Prep is preparing its own $20 million upgrade — plans that have some of the private school’s neighbors concerned.
Residents living near the seven-acre campus at the corner of Foothill Boulevard and Crown Avenue said they question whether updates and related construction could diminish property values, exacerbate an already sticky traffic situation, flood the neighborhood with unwanted light from athletic field upgrades and even trigger allergies.
But Flintridge Prep personnel insist those living nearby shouldn’t be alarmed by any of the items in the proposal, which could, if approved by the city, add 62,790 square feet of new floor area (40,000 of which would be included in a new three-level, two-story parking structure that would replace the school’s current 20,000-square foot surface lot.)
“We don’t want to blow up the campus at any one time and we don’t want to blow up the neighborhood at all,” Headmaster Peter Bachmann said.
The Planning Commission is expected to consider the proposal at its June 27 meeting.
According to Bachmann, the upgrades would be implemented in phases over a decade, with the first phase focused on the construction of a collaborative leadership building; the enclosure of the atrium portion of Norris Auditorium; and athletic field improvements — all of which would cost about $20 million and would be targeted for completion by 2022.
Those projects have the purpose of improving the educational experience for Flintridge Prep students by aligning the school’s facilities with modern educational goals, Bachmann said.
“Our strategic planning for a couple of years really involved, ‘Are we going to have a home for all the programs that we imagined 21st-century kids would need for a 21st-century world?’” Bachmann said. “And as we developed these programs, we realized for kids to experience them fully, we’re going to need different kinds of space. Not simply more space, but different spaces.”
A later phase of the plan includes the new parking structure at the site of the existing surface parking lot next to St. Bede the Venerable Church.
Bachmann said Flintridge Prep believes the parking structure will improve traffic along the corridor, because it will keep students from parking on neighborhood streets, which are jammed on school day mornings with cars transporting employees to Jet Propulsion Laboratory and students to St. Bede’s, St. Francis High School, the Child Education Center, La Cañada High School and Flintridge Prep.
“We believe it would reduce congestion in the neighborhood and we hope it would allow for more fluidity at that very busy corner,” Bachmann said.
But neighbors suggest that more available parking spots will only encourage more students to drive.
“If you build a parking garage, three times as many cars as before are going to come,” said Robert Easter, who for the past 40 years has lived with his wife, Peggy, on Nancy Way, the cul-de-sac directly north of the school, where most of their neighbors are now Flintridge Prep employees living in homes purchased by the school over the past 17 years.
Like others in their neighborhood, the Easters don’t like the idea of permanent, 70-foot light poles on the school’s athletic fields. Currently, Flintridge Prep uses much smaller, temporary light structures a few times a year for its eight-man football home games.
“Seventy-foot light poles I can see from my front windows are really ridiculous,” said Sharlyn French, another Nancy Way resident who also has concerns about what a decade of construction would mean for people with allergies, like her. “It’s enough that I can count the cars and trucks on the freeway, I don’t need them illuminated too.”
But Bachmann said the height of the lights isn’t different from those at other high schools, such as LCHS, where light poles stand 90 feet, according to Mark Evans, LCUSD’s chief business and operations officer.
Also, Bachmann said he’s been told by three lighting companies that the taller the light pole, the more focused the light can be.
“We want to make them as surgically focused as possible to limit the bleed over into the neighborhood,” he said. “And, apparently, counterintuitively, the higher they are, the more focused the lighting is.”
Flintridge Prep is also asking to increase its enrollment cap by 30, to a 530-member student body of 7th-12th-graders who pay about $35,000 a year to attend the school.
“The cap was created in 1990, and I think it’s been the same for about 27 years,” said Bachmann, who noted that the increase would be made throughout grade levels over a three- or four-year period. “We’ve more than doubled the number of applicants since that time, so it’s gotten really selective. We’d love to get a few more kids the opportunity to come here.”
For her part, Peggy Easter said she wants more people living in the school’s vicinity to be aware of the proposed project, so she said she handed out informational flyers. Someone else taped flyers to posts in the area, offering some details and asking: “Is this too much for our neighborhood?”
Bachmann said he and others at Flintridge Prep, which was founded in 1933 as a preparatory school for boys, have sought to dialogue with neighbors.
“We’ve talked with virtually everybody on Nancy Way and many along Crown here,” he said. “We’ve welcomed everybody and continue to. We want people to know as much as they can because we think, frankly, it gets more acceptable the more you know about it.”
The new 17,205-square foot collaborative leadership building would replace the existing 3,235-foot Alumni House and allow for “maker spaces” that lend themselves to STEAM (science, technology, engineering, art and math) education.
The enclosed atrium would create an additional 1,755 square feet of usable event space, minus today’s sound and weather issues.
Bachmann said the school hopes not to have to use an easement near the Easters’ home to accommodate an emergency vehicle turnaround, if the L.A. County Fire Department officials OK it: “We’ve come up with an option where we could do the turnaround on the field as it exists today.”
“We try to be good neighbors, and we’ve tried to be good neighbors to the city,” added Bachmann, pointing out that the campus hosts the La Cañada Flintridge Tournament of Roses Association’s annual “Deco Week,” as well as the City Council candidate forum, various Fire Department events and other community activities and shares its parking with St. Bede’s.
“We enjoy the children,” Peggy Easter said. “We wouldn’t be here if we didn’t. We like to hear them laughing and playing, it’s actually nice. It just seems like the city needs to really pay attention to this. We don’t want to wake up one day and find lights glaring and a parking garage has come up.”
School campus improvements are proving a popular subject this summer.