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Proposed El Portal charter school meets opposition

Proposed El Portal charter school meets opposition
Special to The Miami Herald
El Portal residents who turned out at a recent zoning meeting were outraged by plans to turn the former Rader Memorial United Methodist Church building into a charter school.

A development group is interested in purchasing the church building at 205 NE 87th St. and expanding it to a school for 900 students.

While the church campus — which closed in 2006 — once housed two private schools, residents say the size of the proposed school — and the number of students to be taught there — is too much for the neighborhood to handle.

”I am against it. It’s not keeping with the character of El Portal,” said Courtney Kurk, who lives three houses away from the location. “This is ludicrous and unneeded.”

At the May 13 planning and zoning meeting, the village council told representatives for the MG3 Developer Group to tweak their application to address concerns, such as including a plan to ease traffic in and out of the school.

The charter school would require the council to approve a special exception to convert the lot into a school, as well as site plan approval. The developer, which has offices in Hollywood, plans to lease the property to Imagine Charter Schools. Imagine, which started in 2003 and has more than 70 schools and 35,000 students nationwide, has five schools in Florida.

The former Rader Memorial United Methodist Church once housed a private preschool and the Revelation Academy. In 2006, the property was sold to the Archdiocese of Miami, which planned to use the building as a residence for cloistered nuns.

But plans fell through and the church put the property on the market.

Gustavo Carbonell, an architect for MG3 Developer Group, told the council that approving the school will help El Portal.

”The school will add to the property value,” he told the council. “We think the facility is a beautiful building and we want to preserve it.”

The proposed charter school project would expand the building from 28,000 square feet to 54,231 square feet to accommodate a school for kindergarten through eighth grades. Additions will expand the building to the north and east.

The current Colonial-style architecture will be maintained and the facades and courtyards will be enhanced, Carbonell said. New windows, roofing and additional parking also will be part of the proposed project.

The building is set to have approximately 50 classrooms with about 900 students, Carbonell said.

Some residents say they are concerned with traffic — and an influx of teenagers.

”Anytime you have middle school-aged students, unfortunately, there are drugs that come with that. And that goes for public, private and charter schools,” Kurk said in a phone interview.

But Carbonell said the development group is willing to pay for a traffic study. The developer also plans to include drop-off and pick-up areas for students to ease traffic, he said.

Councilwoman Linda Marcus said she wasn’t sold on a new charter school, and wanted more information before making a decision.

”Charter schools tend to do very well or bad according to what I have looked at,” she said.

And Mayor Joyce Davis said council members just aren’t ready to act on the project. ”There was so much public opposition to the project that it’s going to take additional time,” she said.

Despite opposition, MG3 Developer Group plans to move forward. ”We are going back to the drawing board,” said Pamela Butler, development coordinator for MG3 Developer Group.

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