Stone Creek Charter School is expanding to Gypsum.
Gypsum Town Council members approved the special use permit to allow the charter school to open a new Gypsum campus, 5-2, at their Tuesday meeting, with Dick Mayne and Gary Lebo dissenting.
The dissent followed debates about the location and access of the school's future branch directly off U.S. Highway 6.
Stone Creek is Eagle County's only independent public charter school. Founded in Avon in 2006, it covers kindergarten through eighth grade and is based on a Core Knowledge curriculum. The school has a capacity of about 200 students and had more than 200 before circumstances forced it to move to Edwards last year, when enrollment dropped to 137. It is not governed by attendance boundaries.
Stone Creek Headmaster and Former Eagle County Schools Superintendent John Brendza said there is demand for a charter school in western Eagle County.
"I've been approached throughout many years by parents wanting a school of choice in the valley," he said. "We have some outstanding schools - the county school district has done an excellent job providing various programs and there's been a great deal of success there. With that said, however, parents have also been very interested in other opportunities for their children when they feel their children's' needs are not being met at a school."
Stone Creek's Gypsum branch will be at a site formerly owned by AmeriGas and currently occupied by IMPACT Ministries. That property and the adjacent one to the east - where the New America Charter High School is located - are both owned by Eagle Airport Commerce Center LLC, headed by Glenn Heelan.
Heelan has helped other schools get on their feet in the past, including the New America School, which will soon be moving due to a drop in enrollment. Heelan's company will essentially loan funds to Stone Creek by providing the property and site improvements up front.
The initial proposal before council restricted access to the school from Highway 6, forcing traffic to drive through the business parking lot of Heelan's other property to the east, off Red Table Drive.
"I think the school is good but I won't support it at this point on the sole reason of access," Mayor Steve Carver said prior to concessions by the developers and an executive session by the council members. "I won't have hundreds of cars driving through the business parking lot every day, I won't do that to a business."
In the final agreement, there will be no access to from the Red Table property - only Highway 6. The arrangement for that will have to be made with the Colorado Department of Transportation.
"There is not a community that's going to allow full access to a school site through a private parking lot," said Town Manager Jeff Shroll.
Council members were also concerned about the appearance of the school's modular building and a request by developers to hold off on paving its parking lot.
"We don't know if the school will be successful, and if we pave the lot and it doesn't work out, then we might have to rip out the pavement," Heelan said.
Council members agreed to give the school a year to see how enrollment (per-pupil funding) goes. By May 2013, developers are expected to return before council to hash out further site improvements and a timeline for them to be made.
"It's not about the facility we're bringing to the community, it's about the quality of education," Brendza said.
For more information on Stone Creek, visit its website at www.stonecreekschool.org or call (970) 569-3327.