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‘That’s ridiculous’: Residents & developer want OK to build charter school in outlying development. Planning commission says no

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Residents and parents of Dry Creek Ranch showed up at the Ada County Planning and Zoning Commission meeting to ask for a development modification. 

The modification would have allowed a different type of public elementary school, such as a charter school, to be built on the property rather than a West Ada school. However, the commission moved to recommend the denial of the project.

When Dry Creek Ranch was first being planned for unincorporated Ada County north of Boise, local developer Boise Hunter Homes agreed to donate about seven acres of land on the parcel to the West Ada School District to eventually build an on-site elementary school. Several years later, this has not happened and according to James Hunter of Boise Hunter Homes, it will not happen soon.

“So their attorney… says we won’t guarantee that we will give the school back to you until ten years have exhausted,” Hunter said. “We said ‘ten years? We’re wanting a school now, we’re wanting a school next year, we’re wanting a school year after next year.’ I can’t even comprehend ten years. That’s ridiculous.”

Waiting on a school

Hunter pointed out that if the school district does not intend on initiating a bond for ten years, after construction, the school likely wouldn’t be open for enrollment until 2034. He says instead, a charter school could be built by 2025. 

“I was the one that negotiated the deal with the school district. I would have never committed to give them this site if I’d known, they were simply going to buy it, ice it down, and inventory it and never really provide a school for the citizens of Dry Creek Ranch,” he said.

Parents who showed up at the meeting say they don’t want to wait ten years for West Ada to build a school either, primarily because of the long bus rides. Currently, children of Dry Creek Ranch are the first stop in the morning and the last stop in the afternoon, making the ride over an hour each day. ​​

Sarrie Devore, a mother and resident of Dry Creek, came to speak on behalf of 68 residents who signed a petition to support a charter school. 

“West Ada is saying that they cannot make that a possibility until my children are in high school, much less maybe even out of high school. We are asking today for you to give the option for us to pursue other avenues, including the Public Charter School,” Devore said. “Just the option, that’s what you’re asking for today. A commitment of the option because West Ada could still be a possibility, but we need the option for something sooner as well. We, as a parent group, have been so passionate about having that.”

Devore emphasized that the biggest issue for parents was that they wanted a school now, not later. 

“So the number one reason why we are here is to ask you to allow us to have a school sooner so that we can have our children go to it,” she said. “Have it be a neighborhood community school. There is unprecedented growth and Treasure Valley, there’s unprecedented growth in Dry Creek. That unprecedented growth requires a school. That doesn’t require a school on West Ada plans in 12 years, it requires a school today.”

The commission says no

The argument presented by residents and the developer was not enough to win over the commissioners’ support. The project was denied in a 3-1 vote. Only Commissioner Rod Wickstrum was supportive. 

The commissioners argued that building an elementary school would only temporarily solve the problem until these children moved on to junior high and high school, where once again, the bus could become the only option. 

“What happens when they reach middle school age or when they reach high school age, they’re probably going to be in a very similar predicament,” Commissioner Doug Exton said. “It doesn’t seem like, given what was presented today, that there is essentially a contingency plan for a middle or high school to serve those kids. So that’s kind of one of my main reasons for recommending denial.”

Another point made by Commissioner Brenda Biltman was that charter schools typically house a smaller amount of kids, so a project such as this would only be beneficial to some.

“I’ve been to meetings at my local school district, and (700) to 900 is kind of the size for an elementary school,” she said. “And a lot of charter schools are only 300 students. What I want to make sure that when this goes to the county commissioners is that there’ll be some discussion about how big the schools are going to be, that they’re going to be similar-sized schools because I’m really worried about this being an undersized school that doesn’t fit the needs for the 1,800 houses that are built out.”

The commissioners also noted that they did not feel comfortable telling West Ada they were out of luck. 

“It doesn’t feel like it’s also our role to essentially tell Wes Ada, ‘you’re out of luck ‘and make that decision for them even though it is a recommendation to the board,” Exton said. “I do understand that our recommendations do carry weight in that sense. And I also don’t feel comfortable recommending to our elected body of the county commissioners to essentially tell West Ada you took a little too long.”

The project was recommended to be denied and sent to the Ada Co. Board of Commissioners. 

Correction: A previous version of this story incorrectly stated that the meeting was in front of the Boise Planning and Zoning Commision.

Autum Robertson - BoiseDev Reporter
Autum Robertson - BoiseDev Reporter
Autum Robertson is a BoiseDev reporter focused on Meridian and McCall. Contact her at [email protected].

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