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A map filed with the city Planning Department this week gave the first specifics on how Pulaski Academy’s announced purchase of next-door Fellowship Bible Church could ease longstanding daily traffic snarls on Hinson Road.
But the school is likely to get a lot of questions about a portion of a letter from the school’s attorney meant to quell concerns about further enrollment growth at the school. The letter, from attorney Randal Frazier (who’s also on the school’s board of directors), assures that the school’s objective isn’t to double its enrollment even though it’s doubling the size of its campus. Long-term projections put enrollment in 30 years at 1,950, Frazier’s letter said, or 650 students more than the current count.
The school’s size has been an issue for years. In 1998, according to an Arkansas Democrat-Gazette article, then-headmaster Arch McIntosh promised the Planning Commission not to replace 250 students the school was then planning to move to a new campus on Denny Road in exchange for the commission agreeing to extend a permit for several temporary buildings on the Hinson Road campus. That would have kept the number of students at the main campus to 1,010.
But the Denny Road buildings never materialized, and despite questions over the years, P.A.’s enrollment didn’t shrink. Other school officials insisted that McIntosh didn’t have the authority to agree to a cap, and in 2004, city leaders concluded that the Planning Commission couldn’t legitimately have requested an enrollment cap as part of the discussion of matters that weren’t directly related to the school’s size.
But that wouldn’t necessarily be the case this time around, City Attorney Tom Carpenter said. Pulaski Academy is seeking a change in the conditional use permit that currently allows Fellowship Bible to operate a church on land that’s zoned for single-family residential. The change would be to allow a school instead.
Carpenter said there have been questions over the years about whether the city would ever try to cap a public school’s enrollment. The difference, he said, is that the law obligates public schools to educate however many students show up.
P.A. Headmaster Ellis Arnold wouldn’t say Monday whether he’d be open to agreeing to a cap.
“I don’t think they will ask for that, but we’ll just go through the process with the city,” he said.
But City Director Joan Adcock, who had pressed in the past for the old enrollment cap to be enforced, said she thinks the city should ask for one this time around.
“I think we should,” she said. “If they’re not interested in a cap I have lots of questions about their enrollment plan, and how much more traffic they’ll drop on those streets. If they start taking thousands of children, that’s going to be a problem.”
Meanwhile, there doesn’t seem to be much question that buying the Fellowship property will ease existing traffic problems. The school now has one way in and one way out — close-together driveways off Hinson Road. Cars turning back onto Hinson make it harder for cars on Hinson to turn in to the school, Arnold said.
The plan filed Monday shows cars entering the school from both the current location on Hinson and from Fellowship Bible’s main driveway on Napa Valley Road. Drop-off points would be spread throughout the campus, so cars would wind through a series of driveways and exit either back out onto Napa Valley or onto Hinson from Fellowship’s existing driveway, which is farther away from P.A.’s current exit.
“This is going to be a huge benefit for traffic,” Arnold said. “We get so many of the cars in the queue on the road itself, and now we will be able to put them in a queue on the property.”
Spreading the campus out and adding parking should make a difference too, said Bill Henry, the city’s traffic engineer.
“We think that it might make an improvement in it,” he said.
The city had also already been planning to even out that section of Napa Valley Road to improve site distances. That should make it safer for cars turning onto the road from Fellowship’s driveway, Henry said.
The Planning Commission will discuss P.A.’s zoning request at its meeting at 4 p.m. March 2.
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