BY DAVID SINCLAIR
From the start, Pinehurst leaders have made known they wanted to keep a new elementary school in the village — preferably in its current location.
But it would be a challenge to design a larger, modern school to fit on a relatively small site and meet the village’s zoning standards. Accommodations would have to be made.
A lengthy process of approvals for the new $38 million school is finally nearing an end. The Village Council voted 3-1 last Tuesday to approve a major site plan, one of the last big steps needed before construction can begin.
The village had already approved plans to allow a temporary campus to be built in Rassie Wicker Park that will be used for two years while the old school at Dundee and Kelly roads is torn down and replaced with a modern one.
“We have always wanted that school to be built back on that site,” said Mayor Nancy Fiorillo, who had to leave the meeting before the vote was taken because of a prior engagement. “The fact that you have done all that work to squeeze this nice, bigger school on the same site is greatly appreciated. That’s our school.”
Senior planner Alex Cameron said at the start of the presentation on the site plan that this has been “a pretty challenging project for everyone.”
“It’s large scale and it does have a big impact on the area and the community,” he said. “It has been before every advisory board at least once.”
The village Historic Preservation Commission approved demolishing the existing school as well as plans for construction of a new school.
The Board of Adjustment had to grant what are called variances or waivers to allow the new school to exceed the maximum height requirements for the two-story buildings, as well as a slight increase in the amount of land that can be covered with structure, parking lots and sidewalks.
John Birath, executive officer for operations for the school system, agreed that it has been challenging and thanked the village for its willingness to work with the school system and its professionalism in dealing with them.
“It’s the end of a process, I hope,” he said. “We’re excited. This is a fantastic opportunity to maintain the school within the community that it has resided for many, many decades.”
He said the size of the school had to be increased to accommodate a growing enrollment, which has well-exceeded the current capacity. More than half of the current 615 students in the K-5 school are in mobile classrooms. Birath said another mobile unit had to be added this past year.
The new school will have a capacity of 800 students and will have a number of modern features, such as better security than the current campus. Improvements will also be made in the parent pickup and drop-off area, which will be off Dundee Road. That should ease some of the concerns about traffic in the area, Birath said. Buses enter and exit on Kelly Road.
That was one of the concerns raised when the Planning and Zoning Board reviewed the site plan last month. In an effort to address concerns from residents living around the school, primarily on Everette Road, it proposed additional landscaping along the perimeter.
Cameron said the staff recommended increasing the landscaping by 25 percent beyond what is required by the village.
Birath and Renee Pfeifer with CHL Design, said the site — just under 13 acres — is the smallest of four new elementary schools that are being constructed. That meant having two-story classroom buildings.
“The design team has come up with some fantastic solutions,” Birath said.
One aspect did give council members and other residents some concern — the number of mature trees that will have to be sacrificed. That ultimately led to a “conflicted” council member Judy Davis voting against the plan.
Pfeifer said 162 trees will have to be cut down — 138 in the interior and 24 in the buffers — during construction.
“We are trying to keep as many as possible on the perimeter buffer along the streetscape as possible,” she said in responding to Davis’ questions.
Davis said that is “a massive number of trees to be taken, which she said is “effectively clear-cutting that property.”
“While I am very much in favor of the school, I am definitely not in favor of clear-cutting,” she said.
Birath quickly pointed out that the ordinance requires them to replant trees and install other landscaping once the construction is finished. Pfeifer said that includes 208 long-leaf pines and 105 understory trees in the buffers along the roads and property lines, as well as trees in the parking areas. The landscaping plan also includes nearly 700 shrubs.
“We are putting in more trees, shrubs and plantings than currently exist,” Birath said.
Davis said it is “wonderful” that more trees will be replanted than being cut down.
“In the meantime, it will be a scar,” Davis said. “It is going to be a darn long time before they will add to the tree canopy of our community.”
During the public hearing, John Hoffmann, who lives on nearby Everette Road, asked that the sand walking path on Kelly Road, and landscaping between it and the street be “protected and enhanced and maintained to ensure walker safety.” He said a group of residents originally put in the plantings.
“We are protecting everything in there as best we can,” Birath said.
Former council member Clark Campbell, who lives nearby, questioned the need to require an additional 25 percent landscaping around the school.
“It is already green, and it’s already grown,” he said of what is there now. “Everyone who lives on Everette Road has lived with a school there. .. They are going to hear children’s voices. It is supposed to be fun, secure and joyous. I don’t think we need to make the county spend that much more money on something that is not needed. They are putting back so much.”
Davis said she is more concerned about the view from Dundee.
“With all the trees being taken out, it is going to materially change that look,” she said.
Davis agreed with Campbell, that the additional landscaping bordering homes will make much difference.
“I love the squealing that I hear,” she said. “I don’t think the vegetation is going to dampen squealing.”
Lynn Goldhammer thanked the village for “preserving” this area for the school. She said she has been concerned about “a horrible trend of shoving” kids and schools in areas along busy highways.
She said designing the new campus to make it look more like an old-fashioned school would probably ease some of the apprehension of those living around it.
“The neighbors who have a view of it will probably have less concern about it if it doesn’t look so industrial,” she said.
After the hearing ended, council member Kevin Drum thanked school officials for working with the village on building a school in the historic district “at a little higher standard.”
“Any work you can do on the landscaping and saving trees, I think you are going to find the public is going to be really happy with you,” he said.
Davis, who lives at Kelly and Everette roads across from Community Presbyterian, noted that the church recently cut down a large number of trees as part of a village-approved project that has angered some of its neighbors.
“It’s not very pretty,” Davis responded. “It’s going to be a long time before it’s pretty. I am completely in favor of the school.”
She noted the village also allowed the school to exceed some its requirements.
Drum said it is “a tradeoff” for the village to keep from losing its school.
Council member Jack Farrell, who seconded Drum’s motion, said he understood Davis’ concerns but that the tree removal is “required to construct an appropriate elementary school” on such a small site.