In a move that some called premature and unfair to residents, the Alpine School Board agreed Tuesday night to spend $350,000 of district reserves to fund the second phase of the Alpine Life and Learning Center.

"The board supports the idea, believes it's important to the students, and since we're likely going to expend the money anyway we might as well do it now," Alpine Superintendent Steven Baugh said.Last month the board approved spending $350,000 to build the 9,800-square-foot first phase of the learning center. The center, which will serve as the district's alternative high school, will be built with portable buildings on the northwest corner of Utah Valley State College's campus.

When approving Phase 1 last month, board members said the facility would not sufficiently meet student needs unless the 15,000-square-foot second phase was added. They said if bids for Phase 2 came back within the same cost per foot as the first phase, they would fund it also.

"Phase 1 just doesn't provide enough options for the kids," Baugh said.

Listed on Tuesday's agenda, however, was approval of a contract with the college to lease the property for 10 years at $1 a year. But when district business administrator Jack McKelvy informed the board that Phase 2 could be built for the same price as the first phase and that money was available in the capital outlay reserve fund, the board decided to vote on funding Phase 2.

The motion passed 3-0, with board member Linda Campbell abstaining. Campbell said she supports the concept but believes the issue should have been placed on the agenda as a specific action item. Alpine Education Association President Phyllis Sorenson agreed.

Normally, the board discusses issues at one meeting and takes action the following meeting. Baugh admitted the board veered from normal policy, but felt the issue had been debated sufficiently at past public meetings and feared the price of Phase 2 would escalate if delayed. The board also wants to have the facility open by next school year. By approving the project now, construction can begin immediately and the school will be ready to occupy in July.

"It happens to be an issue that has been discussed for several months, has been well-publicized and reported," Baugh said. "Yes, it's not consistent with our policy, but the board felt putting the matter off until the next budget process could cost the taxpayers an additional $50,000 or more."

Unlike other districts, Alpine does not have a meeting place for assisted-study, adult-education and community-education students. Currently, the district's 2,000 community-education students do most of their work at home. The program is self-paced with students using learning packets with assignments and learning objectives.

The Alpine Life and Learning Center will implement an experimental teaching technique where learning objectives are taught at the school through hands-on experience in vocational and technological fields. Advisers will tell students the objectives they need to learn in math, science, language and other subjects, and students will decide what method they will use to learn the objectives.

The board increased property taxes slightly last year to fund the center. Initially, the district intended to locate the school in a former grocery store in north Orem. District officials later decided the store building was not suitable for the school. Originally, the center was only supposed to cost about $300,000. The price tag is now more than $700,000.