Project Impact STEM Academy charter school in Kuna is ready to expand, but Ada County Highway District’s has one thing it wants to see added before the school reopens.

The charter school was recently conditionally approved to add two portable buildings, each with two classrooms, this summer.

Pi STEM, formerly called PiSA, and ACHD are working on a compromise for a signalized crosswalk to be constructed first.

Ada County Highway District officials wrote in a letter to the school that it had received multiple concerns from student parents that there were no signalized crosswalks on Hubbard Road, which has a 45 mph speed limit.

ACHD also said normally schools are required to have school zone flashers and other signals (HAWK signaling) for a crosswalk. Pi STEM was not required to have crosswalks its first year because students would primarily be transported by buses and parents rather than walking, according to ACHD.

The school would be responsible for all costs associated with the design, hardware and construction for the crosswalks and signals.

“Since the opening of the school … staff have received correspondence from parents regarding the lack of school zone flashers and a crosswalk … as students are crossing Hubbard Road from the north side of the roadway to access the school,” ACHD stated in a letter. “With the additional portable classrooms, enrollment will increase and it (is) likely that there will be an increase in students crossing Hubbard Road to access the school.”

Pi STEM is in the process of appealing that.

The school responded in a letter to ACHD that it feels it should be granted a waiver of the financial requirements. Pi STEM stated it recognizes the importance of safety and would be willing to work with ACHD in a partnership where ACHD offered financial assistance in adding the crosswalks and signaling.

Pi STEM said that in ACHD’s current Integrated Five Year Work Plan and in years prior, numerous projects have been approved to improve student safety near and around schools where no financial contribution was required of the school.

“Yet because of the partnerships between ACHD, the schools, and cities, these improvements were approved, funded and completed,” Pi STEM stated in its letter. “Pi STEM would like to develop a partnership with ACHD as such as been done with other schools.”

ACHD is also requiring the school develop a portion of School Avenue in the immediate future to help connect Arbor Ridge Subdivision. The school would be required to pay for design and construction of new pavement, curb, gutter, sidewalk, a gravel shoulder and a ditch for storm runoff. In lieu of design and construction, Pi STEM could deposit $77,000 in a road trust fund for the future development of the roadway improvements.

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Pi STEM requested a waiver for this, as well.

Based on recent legislation passed (House Bill 91), schools are not considered “developers” and therefore are exempt from having to pay for and construct certain types of improvements, Pi STEM stated in its letter.

Pi STEM officials acknowledged this legislation passed after its initial design approval, which, at the time, required the school to contribute to constructing a portion of School Avenue. Pi STEM said it would be glad to participate in a partnership with ACHD and the Arbor Ridge Subdivision developer to complete School Avenue.

Pi STEM officials stated they feel this does not need to happen immediately because based on a conversation Pi STEM officials had with the Arbor Ridge Subdivision developer, the phase of Arbor Ridge Subdivision’s development around School Avenue is about three years out.

“In total, it is estimated the first three conditions would cost the school nearly 20% of its total operating budget for the year,” Pi STEM officials said in their letter. “If required to complete these works, the impact to the budget would be severe and ultimately require the closure of the school as it would not have the capability to hire staff, nor fund operations necessary to adequately educate its students.”

Pi STEM administrators said they are working with ACHD in “developing a plan that can hopefully meet everyone’s needs.” They expect a revised letter from ACHD by June 19.

Additional classrooms are needed for newly added grade levels. Project Impact STEM Academy, commonly called Pi STEM, has added grades eight and 10. Previously the school offered grades kindergarten through seventh and ninth.

The school also plans to add grades 11 and 12 in the immediate future. This would bring the student body from a maximum capacity of 297 to about 429 around 2021.

Jill Hettinger, executive director of the school, who replaced Dan Neddo, said enrollment been pretty steady since January and recently saw an uptick with this year’s lottery, or random draw, of students. With portables to accommodate grades eight and 10, Pi STEM could add as many as 66 students this school year. Final enrollment numbers for this year are still being determined.

“We do have seats available, (and) we have good numbers going into next year,” Hettinger said.

Pi STEM plans for the five total portable classroom buildings to be temporary, eventually being replaced by a permanent structure around 2021.

Alx Stevens is the reporter for Kuna Melba News. Contact her at 208-922-3008 or editor@kunamelba.com.