By Katta Hules
The Arroyo Pacific Academy has been given the green light to expand. The small private college preparatory high school for local and international students was given the go ahead by the city council at Tuesday’s meeting. “This would not have been possible without the encouragement of city staff … I think it’s going to be a real asset to the city. I think it’s going to be a real asset to the school to have our own campus where we can keep our eye on the kids,” said Phillip Clark, president and owner of the private school.
The Academy was established in 1998 at 100 E. Live Oak Ave., but outgrew that location in 2002, according to the city staff report on the subject. It moved to its current location at 41 W. Santa Clara St., which is 500 feet from the future location. It expanded again in 2012, building the Clark Center at 400 Rolyn Place, which has a “theater, music room, visual art studio, mac lab, film/TV production studio, dance studio, and fitness room,” according to the school’s website. This broke up the campus between the two sites, which are in walking distance of each other.
In 2014, the school needed to expand again and came to the city with a proposal for a third building. Staff raised concerns about breaking up the campus further. “Rolyn Place … is a fairly eclectic street in terms of the uses there … that don’t really facilitate cooperation with a use that includes students,” said Jason Kruckeberg, assistant city manager/developmental services director.
They then worked with Clark to create a more unified site, eventually coming up with the current configuration. The proposal involves building a new structure at 325 N. Santa Anita Ave., on the same block as the Clark Center, and renovating a preexisting building between them, creating a single conjoined campus. This was approved by the planning commission in July.
At the city council public hearing on the matter, Mayor Tom Beck recused himself, despite the city attorney’s assurance it was unnecessary, because Clark “has been a dear friend to me for 20 years.” For the length of the public hearing, Mayor Pro-Tem Peter Amundson presided in his place.
Only Clark addressed the council during the public comments section and during the council’s discussion, Council Member April Verlato and Amundson expressed concern about parking and future expansion. “It’s a good project as proposed, but … what about the future?” Verlato asked.
Originally, Clark requested for the capacity to enroll up to 280 students (current enrollment is 178). However, city staff knocked the number to 258, because there was only room for 80 parking spots instead of the 118 that city code would require for that number of students. “It’s code versus demand … with many of our projects we do a real time traffic analysis as to how the usage is actually operating, as opposed to what the code might presume is necessary and in this case it’s a pretty exhaustive traffic and parking study that looked at real time usage and so given that, there is an adequate amount of parking to cover the 258,” said Kruckeberg.
As for future expansion, Kruckeberg said they would have to do another traffic study to see how the school operated at full capacity. “Because [Verlato,] you’re right, where is parking going to go? There’s not a lot of space over there, there’s not a lot of leasing opportunities but there are opportunities to purchase additional lots … there are options.”
In addition to the parking and traffic study, an environmental impact report was done at the expense of the school. It found the impact of the proposed project to “less than significant” according to the staff report. That kind of report studies “every issue that could possibly go wrong,” said Council Member Robert Chandler, adding, “I just want to let people know that things like this don’t get done just by happenstance, it takes a great deal of study and effort.”
The Academy’s proposal was conditionally approved by a unanimous vote. The 32 conditions, which can be found in the staff report on the city’s website range from requiring a Native American specialist to be on-site during digging in case remains are uncovered, to rules about tree planning and removal. “I think [the campus] would be a tremendous improvement … to the area,” said Chandler.
The council will meet again on Sept. 6 at 7 p.m.