Alcuin School is tucked away in a residential area off Churchill Way

Alcuin School is tucked away in a residential area off Churchill Way.

The City Plan Commission on Thursday approved a zoning request that allows Alcuin School to reallocate a portion of its students to 10th-12th grade classes.

Alcuin currently enrolls through ninth grade but aims to expand its International Baccalaureate program into an upper school. There is an overall enrollment cap of 700 students, including a limit of 35 in 10th-12th grades.

“You can’t have a great program with 35 students, especially in IB,” says Alcuin’s Head of School, Walter Sorensen.

Alcuin asked to increase the upper school cap to 135. The overall enrollment cap remains the same. The school currently has about 540 students.

Alcuin will limit the number of student drivers to 70 and restrict their access, entering and exiting Churchill Way only from Preston Road. They’re required to park on the west end of campus, abutting the Cooper Aerobics Center. Still, neighbors expressed concern over putting more teenagers behind the wheels, citing increased traffic and safety issues.

“We feel like we’ve already addressed the things that would be a concern to any neighborhood,” Sorensen says.

Hillcrest Forest, the Downs of Hillcrest and Preston Citadel, the three neighborhood associations that surround the campus, were all opposed to the plan shortly before the City Plan Commission voted on it.

In a letter sent to the CPC in December, the Downs president Ron Gaswirth wrote, “The Board believes that adding additional grades will increase the traffic on Churchill Way, Hillcrest Road, Preston Road and surrounding areas and create new and significant safety issues for the neighborhood that will likely result in death or serious harm to the many people traversing Churchill Way.”

In a last-ditch effort to garner neighborhood support, Alcuin announced that it would contribute $1 million over the next decade to fund increased security patrol — to be organized and managed by the neighborhood groups themselves.

Hillcrest Forest president Bruce Wilke says in an email that neighbors had proposed other ways to relieve potential issues — such as busing some of the students to reduce the traffic count — but none worked for Alcuin.

“This is a substitute which we feel is beneficial to both parties,” Wilke says. “Many details of the agreement remain to be worked out, but we expect to have those resolved by the time it reaches City Council, which will take at least a month.”

The Downs of Hillcrest remained opposed to the plan.

The relationship between Alcuin and its neighbors has been a rocky one. Neighbors have been frustrated by the request to change the enrollment structure agreed upon in 2005 when Alcuin expanded, buying the former Akiba Academy. In 2008, a minor amendment to expand their parking lot resulted in the removal of trees and lawns that line Churchill Way — changes to the landscape plan that were left out of the proposal considered by city staff.

Fast forward to today, and this is about more than an extra 70 teenagers traversing the neighborhood. Wilke says the lack of trust slowed down the negotiations.

In the end, however, most neighbors supported the proposal with Alcuin’s donation to increased security as a win-win.

So, will neighbors see more requests from Alcuin to expand enrollment in the future? Laurie Carroll, vice president of Alcuin’s board of trustees, says no.

“Our goal is to not grow beyond 700 students,” she says. “It’s the right number for campus.”

The request still needs final approval at City Council. On its website, Hillcrest Forest has detailed answers to many of the questions that persisted throughout the debate.

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