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Charter school site causes controversy

PLEASANT GROVE — The John Hancock Charter School is having a difficult time finding a home for a planned 25,000-square-foot building.

So far, it has been turned away in Highland, Alpine, Lindon, American Fork, Cedar Hills and Lehi.

Now, Pleasant Grove residents are making a fuss because the school has bought land near a pipe plant and a private club that sells liquor by the drink. They're saying if you can't build a bar within 1,000 feet of a church or a school then a school can't put itself within that same footage.

Mike Daniels, a board member of the charter school, said the school has been on a quest for a site for two years. Daniels said it seems unfair that the charter school is being quizzed on everything from playground noise to traffic when public schools choose sites without much scrutiny.

Victor Orvis, a resident and former planning commissioner for Pleasant Grove, believes the charter school is actually getting special treatment.

Orvis said the school is desperate to find a site and because students are enrolled who have high-powered parents, all the rules pertaining to health and safety are getting thrown out.

Orvis said he plans to join a lawsuit that may be filed by the Eagle's Lodge. Scott Carlson, the Eagle Aerie Lodge manager, said the Eagles are afraid that in the future, parents will object to the club and take legal steps to curb the use of alcohol on lodge premises.

Orvis believes locating a school near an establishment that serves alcohol violates the spirit of the proximity law.

He also said the school will be too close to the Continental Pipe plant, exposing students to excessive dust and noise. "They're nuts," Orvis said. "They're just interested in this site because the property is cheap."

Daniels said he believes Orvis had his eye on the same plot of land and is unhappy because he's spent money trying to obtain it.

"I was interested and am interested but I certainly don't have any intention of putting 180 kids on it," Orvis said. "It's a horrible location. We haven't even talked about the railroad tracks or the trucks that will be turning into the pipe plant right in front of the school."

Daniels said the school has approvals from both the Pleasant Grove planning commission and the City Council and is only waiting on comment from the county health department.

Utah's State Board of Education and the Alcohol Beverage Control board have both determined the proximity laws cannot prevent the charter school from going ahead.

Justin Jones, spokesman for the Utah County Health Department, said the health department's OK isn't required for a building site although the department does have some concerns about air quality and safety. Those concerns will be presented to the health board on March 24.

The 2.8 acre site is at approximately 500 W. 400 North. The new building will provide for a maximum of 180 students in kindergarten through eighth grade and is expected to be operational by the fall of 2003.

Daniels said he's optimistic about the final outcome but has extended the school's lease for use of the old American Heritage building in Pleasant Grove for another season just in case.

"We're trying to be very good citizens here," he said. "But it would be nice if we could all learn to get along."