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Bluffdale charter school is jeered

BLUFFDALE — Carson Butler still had on his backpack from school Monday night when he joined about 40 kids who stood and shouted at the giant, yellow trackhoe and gathering of people across the street.

The group of kids were part of a vocal, neighborhood movement against the Providence Hall charter school, where parents and children came Monday night to christen their new campus, celebrate and try to ignore the jeers coming from behind them. Old and young came out to oppose the school, but, by far, the loudest were the littlest.

"There's a lot of traffic going into our school in the morning and in the afternoon, but the difference is (South Hills Middle School) is right by (a major road) and a lot of kids don't have to walk past the traffic there," said Butler, a seventh-grader at nearby South Hills Middle School. "But the cars that are driving into (Providence Hall), the kids are going to have to walk past them."

Butler, his parents and a number of other local residents in the area of 13400 South and 4000 West in Bluffdale are upset the school is moving into their neighborhood because they're worried the traffic will increase, their home values will go down and their peaceful neighborhood will be ruined.

Shouts of "Where's our say?" and "Go away" nearly drowned out the dedicatory prayer offered in behalf of the future school as parents and children tried to ignore the growing noise. Some residents pulled out their recreation and all-terrain vehicles to block the street and really drive the point home that their new neighbor is not wanted.

What irks residents most is that a majority of them, including city officials, say they didn't know about the school until about a week ago. Recent legislation, HB172, allows charter schools to be built in locations, just like public schools, without standard city approval. So while school developers say they have been working with city staff on the project for a month now, the school has flown beneath the radar of the City Council.

City Councilwoman Nancy Lord said she was shocked to hear about the project Monday morning after being out of the country for a week.

"I got back and I started reading my e-mail this morning and I thought, 'Oh my gosh,' there's this huge issue that I was completely unaware of," Lord said.

The city is looking into what legal rights it has in the situation and may have a special City Council meeting on the matter, according to the councilwoman.

"We don't want to jump the gun on anything, but we want to be aware of what we should do," Lord said.

Providence Hall has been in development for the last two years, said Paige Anderson, chairwoman of the Providence Hall School Board. Construction on the building is anticipated to begin in three weeks with completion slated for July 2008. The K-6 school has 700 students enrolled from surrounding cities, but only a handful come from Bluffdale.

Anderson said the reason the school did not have an enrollment meeting in Bluffdale is because of scheduling conflicts, but a few of the Bluffdale students come from the neighborhood in which the school will be located.

"We do have some support in this neighborhood, they're just not as loud," Anderson said, raising her voice to be heard over the children in the background. "We really do want to be good neighbors."

While the school will have 700 students, Anderson said many families will have multiple students attending the school, and carpooling is encouraged.

South Jordan resident Denise Christiansen, who has two children enrolled in the school, said she empathizes with the neighbors, but their actions made her sad.

"There are growing pains with every bit of land in this valley, and sometimes you win with good neighbors and sometimes you lose," Christiansen said. "I would rather have a school next to me than a massive development."