Mountain Middle School and city officials have reached an agreement about the school’s plan for expansion.
After months of negotiations, the school and city officials have compromised on fewer additional students and a smaller expansion to the school’s building on west 31st Street.
School officials presented plans last year for a 10,000-square-foot addition that would house 90 students in grades three through five.
After hearing concerns from neighbors about the building size, traffic and other issues, the Durango Planning Commission voted to refer the matter to the State Board of Education in July. As a charter school, it is governed by the state rather than city regulations.
However, the city agreed to withdraw its appeal to the state board if the school revised its plans, said City Planner Phillip Supino. If the school doesn’t follow the agreement, the city can re-file the appeal.
The school agreed this week to a one-story addition that will not exceed 7,000 square feet. It will likely house a space to work on projects, a lunch room, offices and classrooms for 60 new students in fourth and fifth grades, said Erin Patla, president of the school’s board. The school has 180 middle school students.
Changes to the school’s plans were based on neighbors’ concerns and feedback from students, parents and staff, Patla said.
“We were able to take feedback from all those different stakeholder groups and put it all into play,” she said.
As part of the changes, the school must develop a plan to manage traffic based on a third-party study. The school has installed new signs and asked staff members to help manage the flow of traffic near the school.
In addition to the new building, the school plans to convert part of the parking lot into a park for students and the neighborhood, Patla said. Some of the existing parking will be moved behind the school.
Communication with the neighborhood is also required concerning the school’s plans, and the school must send a written notice to neighbors 20 days before starting major construction.
“The compromise we were able to reach was a good outcome given the limitation placed on local government by state statute,” Supino said.
He could not say whether the building complies with the city’s Land Use and Development Code because the school is not governed by the code.
“We didn’t do that level of analysis because there was no point,” he said.
There was no opportunity for public comment on the agreement because there is no code or policies that could be applied, he said.
The two planning meetings were the extent of the city’s public process.
Both sides agreed that settling the issue on the local level was the best option.
“It’s in our best interest to keep the conversation in the local community,” Patla said.
Several steps remain before the school can break ground. School officials will meet with the Charter School Institute in February to talk about its expansion, and the school could be approved in the next few months, Patla said. The school also must finalize the building plans.
The school expects to start construction this summer, she said.