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Over protests, Rock Hill charter school home OK'd

York County's first planned K-12 charter school has won approval to move into a former Rock Hill private school campus, over objections from neighbors worried about traffic and plans for a mini-village of classroom trailers.

York Preparatory Academy will occupy the old Trinity Christian School, which closed last year due to low enrollment. The move is only temporary - York Prep plans its own campus off Eastview Road within a year.

But the school's choice of an interim location riled homeowners in the University Drive area near Cherry Park. They're concerned about traffic from 1,200 students and the arrival of 15 mobile units needed for extra classrooms.

In front of a packed and evenly divided crowd at City Hall, planning commissioners voted 6-1 last week in favor of a site plan. Commissioner Harold Peeples opposed the request. No other approvals are needed.

"We feel very relieved," said Ruth Walkup, a member of the school's board of directors. "We have overcome a lot of obstacles. This is just a very sweet victory."

York Prep officials said they would address traffic concerns by adding a turn lane and creating a special route for carpools. Mobile units will sit at the back of the property, shielded by new shrubbery.

Neighbors came away with disappointment. Some fear long lines of cars backed up on the streets. The neighborhood is already home to St. Anne Catholic School. Trinity served about 500 students before enrollment began to drop.

Now, more than twice that many are coming.

"We will just be completely blocked into our homes," said Marty Sanocki of University Drive. "I'm not opposed to the school. But I don't want it across the street."

This is a temporary deal, pointed out planning commissioner Tom Roper. The mobile trailers must be removed after a year as part of the agreement.

"It's only going to be this situation for one school year," Roper said.

York Prep had been scrambling to find a temporary home.

A permanent campus should be ready by August 2011 in a subdivision called The Gates off Eastview Road. It's possible 240 students could stay behind at the Trinity site for an extra semester, but they wouldn't use the trailers, said school founder Craig Craze.

School leaders tried to lease the Fort Mill school district's unoccupied fourth middle school for the 2010-2011 school year. Fort Mill officials declined, citing liability issues and concerns over timing with road construction.

York Prep initially will be open to students in kindergarten through ninth grade, Craze said, with a new grade added yearly until the school is K-12.

Rock Hill NAACP president Melvin Poole has raised concerns about lack of racial diversity. Several hundred people who attended a recent enrollment lottery were mostly white, as was the crowd of several hundred at a recent board meeting.

Craze said school organizers targeted black neighborhoods and churches with public information sessions about the school. Craze, who has declined to speculate about the school's demographics until that data is available, said 1,588 people applied to send students to the school.

The school has no attendance boundaries; students must simply reside in South Carolina. York Prep would join a growing number of charter schools cropping up across the state. Since 2002, more than 30 have opened.