A group of residents is fighting a proposed K-12 charter school that would be built in Eastridge Terrace, an area between University Boulevard and East Wildcat Reserve Parkway where dozens of single-family homes line quiet side streets and …
A group of residents is fighting a proposed K-12 charter school that would be built in Eastridge Terrace, an area between University Boulevard and East Wildcat Reserve Parkway where dozens of single-family homes line quiet side streets and cul-de-sacs.
Ascent Classical Academy of Douglas County plans to build on a 10-acre parcel west of Cresthill Lane and south of Adelaide Circle. The Douglas County School District Board of Education approved the charter school in late June and will vote on the Highlands Ranch site at a meeting beginning at 6 p.m. Aug. 15 in the board room of the Wilcox Administration Building, 620 Wilcox St. in Castle Rock.
If the location is approved, the school would open in fall 2018 with 498 students in grades K-10, with room to expand to 728 students through grade 12, the school’s charter application says.
Neighbors of the site argue the school would increase traffic, pose a risk to family safety and hurt surrounding neighborhood schools that are already struggling with enrollment. Within close proximity are Arrowwood Elementary School, which the school district projects to be underutilized in the upcoming school year, Highlands Ranch High School and Cresthill Middle School. Several other neighborhood schools are within a five-mile distance.
“Why would we put another school in an area that would potentially draw another student from any of our other schools?” asked Breanna Hume, who lives in a cul-de-sac next to the site.
Ascent Classical Academy models the curriculum of Golden View Classical Academy in Jefferson County, which uses the Barney Charter School Initiative. It is a project of Hillsdale College, a liberal arts school in Michigan with locations across the country, which promotes liberal arts and sciences and teaches “moral character and civic virtue,” according to its website.
Not the original plan
The school would be the first classical-based learning school in Douglas County, board of education President Meghann Silverthorn said. While she votedto approve the school — along with board Vice President Judith Reynolds and board members Jim Geddes and Steven Peck — Silverthorn said she is undecided about the Cresthill Lane location for reasons including the size of the plot, traffic and pushback of neighbors.
“We’re required to consider it,” Silverthorn said. “I’m not convinced that it is a great location for that school.”
Board members David Ray, Wendy Vogel and Anne-Marie Lemieux voted against the school. They raised concerns about the charter school’s impact on the district as a whole at the Aug. 1 board of education meeting.
“There’s no consideration to the effect on our overall health and financial implications on other schools,” Lemieux said at the meeting. “All of our public school choice can be negatively impacted if we don’t plan accordingly and wisely.”
Plans originally called for a location on a parcel of land in Meridian Village, near I-25 and Lincoln Avenue, according to board of education meeting minutes. The school withdrew its original site request and applied for the Cresthill Lane land on May 31 because the site has a utility infrastructure — which speeds up the construction timeline — and is a central location to the school’s current population of interested families, said Derec Shuler, director of the school’s education service provider and founder of Golden View Classical Academy.
“Based on the timelines imposed by the school district in our contract, this is the only site remaining that will allow us to build a new campus to open in the fall of 2018,” Shuler said in an email. “If the school delays a year, construction inflation is expected to increase facility costs by about $600,000-$700,000.”
The board of education approved Ascent Classical Academy in late June, despite a recommendation from the district’s Charter Application Review Team (CART) to deny it. The district’s Long Range Planning Committee, which studies facilities and capacity needs, also recommended to deny the location atan Aug. 2 meeting because of the impact to surrounding schools that are declining in enrollment, Ray said.
“It really is about us being strategic about where we place schools,” Ray said. “Nobody benefits when seats are empty.”
The CART report says the review team denied the academy’s application because of questions about its broad-based education program, governance, financial viability and the structure of its education service provider, Ascent Classical Academies. Of the 20 standards CART considers — management, parent and community support, employees, serving students with special needs, budget and finance, educational program and others — Ascent Classical Academy fully met one, insurance, the report outlines.
An advocate for school choice, Hume isn’t opposed to a school being built on the parcel of land — it was set aside by Douglas County for that purpose in 1996. But she is against a school of such magnitude being built. Cresthill Lane, the two-lane street going to and from the site, isn’t prepared for the amount of traffic a K-12 school would bring, Hume said.
Neighbors frustrated by school’s size
If the site location is approved, Ascent Classical Academy will begin a formal traffic-mitigation process, Schuler said, which will include working with county traffic engineers on operations, turn lanes and site design. The school’s preliminary proposal includes 1,800 feet for traffic on site, Shuler said.
“While we do expect traffic from a new school,” he said, “we are committed to working with the county and neighbors to mitigate the effects.”
Some residents worry that an increase in traffic would endanger children who bike and walk through the residential area. The site sits near University Boulevard and Wildcat Reserve Parkway, thoroughfares that already bustle with traffic during peak hours.
“We cannot absorb the additional vehicles,” Hume said. “If the conversation was they are going to build a neighborhood K-6, we wouldn’t be talking.”
Since finding out about the proposed school about two weeks ago, Hume and a handful of residents have used social media platforms to spread their opposition to a K-12 school being built in their neighborhood. Last Saturday, on Aug. 5, about 30 residents met at a block party and initiated a petition against the school. The group plans to continue public outreach until the Aug. 15 meeting, which they plan to attend.
The general mood among neighboring residents is frustration, said Tim Schumacher, who has lived down the street from the site for 11 years.
“Not because it’s a particular type of school,” said Schumacher, who has two children at Cresthill Middle School and Fox Creek Elementary School. “It’s really about the impact of putting that type of building with that type of population on that parcel of land.”