A zoning exception was recommended for refitting of USD 257 administrative offices as site for Crossroads alternative school by Iola Planning Commission members Wednesday evening, but they were thumbs down on closing a portion of an alley between Cottonwood and Colborn streets.
Scott Stanley, maintenance and transportation supervisor for USD 257, said the district wanted to move Crossroads to save money and improve educational efficiencies.
Crossroads, where students freshman through senior may complete high school after a variety of problems have made it difficult for them in a traditional setting, has been at the old Gas Elementary School 11 years.
Stanley said it would cost $86,000 to replace a leaky roof in Gas and an estimated $23,000 could be saved each year in transportation and utility costs by having the school a block and a half north of Iola High and the district cafeteria.
Much of Crossroads’ education is delivered online. Technology access is limited in Gas, in comparison to the building at 408 N. Cottonwood, he said.
Meanwhile, the district purchased a former doctor’s office at 305 N. Washington and it is being prepared for administrative offices.
Stacy Fager, IHS principal, said an important social aspect of Crossroads was for students to have their own identity, to have “their school,” hence a school separate from Iola High. They are there, he added, because of such things as discipline and grade issues or so they may graduate early.
Gary Hoffmeier, whose electric business office and shop is next door to the south, objected to the special use permit, saying the area was zoned for business. He also questioned whether the building was large enough to accommodate up to 30 students and instructors they needed.
Stanley said a representative of the state fire marshal had approved the building for numbers of students expected.
Fager noted this fall’s Crossroads enrollment was anticipated at 16, although there were fluctuations from year to year. He also stressed that online instruction didn’t require as much space as traditional classrooms.
In a run-up to planners recommending the special use permit, Tony Leavitt, school board president, said moving Crossroads to North Cottonwood maintained the students’ identity, saved money and put them close to Iola High and its administrative team, which “is why I voted to do it.”
“They (school personnel) are professionals and I trust their opinion,” said Dennis Mc-Kinnis, one of the planning commissioners.
NEIGHBORS NEAR the alley proposed for vacation were opposed.
Carolyn McLean, who with husband Val owns a rental property just north of the alley, at 214 S. Cottonwood, proposed closing the west half of the alley. Part of it then would have been developed as an expansion of Cottonwood Gardens, a private park maintained by Jim Smith.
The McLeans also own the property directly east of the park, on Colborn.
Concerns voiced were difficulty exiting the alley to the east, because of a sharp turn, a dip at the alley’s entrance and vehicles parked along Colborn; and arrival and departure of children at a daycare on the corner south, where some parents use an intersecting north-south alley.
Jared Kelley, a planning commissioner, said he appreciated the quality of life the park brought to the area, but thought access with the alley was a bigger issue.
Brian Shaughnessy, another planner, agreed.
“There are more cons than pros,” he said.
“It’s a beautiful garden,” said Commissioner Mike McKinnis, “but I think the alley is an important” component of the neighborhood.
The decision to recommend denial of the vacation was unanimous, as was the decision for the special use permit for the school.
Chairman Larry Crawford pointed out with each decision that the planners made only recommendations and that city council members would decide the issues at their meeting Monday night.