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Bluffdale charter seeks friendlier area to build

As far as charter school developer Thomas Pitcher is concerned, sticks and stones might break bones, but words can be just as hurtful.

That's why Pitcher decided Wednesday to pack up his plans to build the Providence Hall charter school in Bluffdale and go elsewhere. It's only been nine days since parents and students dedicated land for the school near 134000 South and 4000 West, but the jeers and angry epithets from residents who opposed the ceremony have changed Pitcher's mind about building in the neighborhood.

"I've never seen behavior like this, ever, in any development," said Pitcher, CEO of the Excel Education Group, a charter school development agency. "(Young students) were traumatized by the experience. They said they don't want to go to school there, and cry when they start talking about Providence Hall."

At a City Council meeting Tuesday, council members unofficially ordered city employees not to give the developers a building permit for the site until concerns about the project could be resolved. Residents said they are worried about the increased traffic the school could create in the neighborhood.

The site has also been known to flood, residents said, which is a violation of state regulations for choosing a potential charter school property. Councilwoman Nancy Lord said the council agreed to send letters to the Utah State Office of Education, state board of health, county board of health and attorney general's office to ask for clarifications on legislation that determines who has jurisdiction over charter school building permits.

"We're asking to clarify who enforces the State Office of Education rule that says, 'You shall not build where there has been a history of flooding,"' Lord said. "Is that rule meant to be just a guideline that can be ignored or is it an actual rule that can be enforced? And if so, then by whom?"

Lord is quick to point out that the city is not opposed to charter schools per se but is skeptical that the area Pitcher selected is suitable. At Tuesday's meeting, city leaders offered to try to find another parcel of land in the city that could be used instead.

"I think the entire council and the citizens in general are very much in favor of charter schools, and we would love to have another school elsewhere in the city, where it works," Lord said.

But Pitcher says he is worried about the negative environment the students of Providence Hall would be in if the school stayed in the area. Instead, Pitcher is looking for alternate land in Herriman, Riverton or South Jordan.

"This is going to be such a great school that we didn't want it to be in a negative environment," Pitcher said. "This neighborhood has just created such a hostile environment for the school that it is untenable."

Chris Brockbank, who lives in the neighborhood and helped organize the protest, said he started looking to move out of the upscale area as soon as he heard the potential new school was coming — a couple of days before the groundbreaking. Though he strongly disagreed with the project, Brockbank says he's not against charter schools in general.

"We're pro-education, anti-location," Brockbank said. "That's the motto."