While Turlock Christian School families have been anxiously awaiting the opening of the private school's first stand alone campus, school officials must first convince the Turlock Planning Commission that the conversion of the site from the former MedicAlert offices to an elementary campus won't cause excessive traffic problems.
Turlock Christian purchased the MedicAlert Foundation building, on the corner of Tuolumne Road and Colorado Avenue, for $4 million earlier this year after the health information company decided to move its offices to a leased space in Modesto. The school plans to house its kindergarten through sixth grade classes on the new campus, which are currently located at Crossroads Church on N. Johnson Road.
The MedicAlert building is in an area of town that is zoned for Commercial Office use. In order for the property to be used for a school, Turlock Christian had to apply for a Minor Discretionary Permit from the City of Turlock. During the permitting process, the City notified neighbors of the intended change of use and at least four local residents submitted letters of opposition to a school being allowed to operate at that site.
The residents' number one concern was the increase in traffic congestion and possible pedestrian hazards that a school would bring to the already troublesome intersection.
"Our concern and objection to this project is the added traffic to the intersection of Colorado and Tuolumne. Currently this intersection backs traffic up north to the intersection of Colorado and Minnesota daily during the morning 'school' rush. We have witnessed many near miss accidents during these times and fear the added traffic load with student drop off and pickup will make this situation worse," states an email signed by local resident Bill Weber.
Along with traffic congestion, neighborhood residents were also concerned about parking issues.
Resident Steve Johnson also wrote a letter of opposition stating that "both the east and west sides of Colorado are frequently line with vehicles of those patronizing the medical facilities that line both sides of the street. I cannot help but think that with additional competition for parking spaces, these vehicles will be forced into the adjacent neighborhoods..."
The City Engineer Mike Pitcock examined the possible traffic issues that could arise from the conversion of the MedicAlert office to a school campus and found that with two mitigation efforts, the "traffic generation will be noticeable but should not rise to the level of concern."
The two conditions that Pitcock recommended in his report were to have signs at each of the front parking driveways directing student drop off to the rear parking lot and redistricting all left turn movements into and out of the front parking driveway on Tuolumne Road and allow only staff and visitor parking in the front lot.
Turlock Christian Superintendent Karen Winter said that the school has created a very specific traffic plan for the new campus to alleviate any possible problems.
"We have a full staff of people that open car doors to get students in and out quickly. We've time it on our campuses down to the moment. We're a well-oiled machine," said Winter.
"We expect there will be no back up of traffic at all."
Along with having student drop off and pickup in the rear parking lot, the school moved its start time from 8:15 a.m. to 8:30 a.m. to avoid the peak time when students are being transported to Dutcher School, located farther south on Colorado Avenue.
The City staff report also notes that while traffic congestion is a problem at all school sites, Turlock Christian Elementary's 200 students are far fewer than other Turlock elementary sites, which are closer to 700 students.
If the permit is approved, the $4 million renovation of the building will include a multitude of new classrooms, a computer and media lab, multipurpose room, library and robotics and technology centers. Students will get the opportunity to use interactive Promethean Boards in every classroom, as well as engage in Tynker programming and Ozobots robotics.
Winter said they are using environmentally-conscious building practices and state-of-the-art technology.
"From the sidewalks, to air and lighting, it will be the most up-to-date and beneficial to students' learning," she said.
The project is not expected to be completed until December, with students moving to the new campus after the winter break.
The Turlock Planning Commission will consider Turlock Christian's request for a Minor Discretionary Permit at its next meeting, set for 6 p.m. Thursday at City Hall, 156 S. Broadway.