Sacred Heart

A Smart Board in an out-dated classroom at Flintridge Sacred Heart Academy in La Canada Flintridge. All classrooms have Smart Boards, but the school plans to add central air, modern lighting and windows. The school has plans pending approval by the city to renovate and modernize the campus. (Tim Berger / Staff Photographer / August 10, 2012)

Flintridge Sacred Heart Academy has run into an unexpected obstacle in its plan for a campus makeover — a group of nearby residents who say the proposed renovation will cause traffic jams and safety problems.

The school plans to build a four-story parking structure, add classroom space and replace its auditorium with a larger one, though officials say they are not seeking to add more students or host more events.

Members of a group called Protect LCF say the school already exceeds the number of students it is permitted to have and should not get the green light.

“Flintridge Sacred Heart Academy has flouted the law for years,” group member S.K. Durairaj said in a statement. “Protect LCF is united in its commitment to maintain the livability and safety of our neighborhood, and opposes the addition of hundreds of daily vehicle trips on narrow, winding, hillside roads.”

The group, which includes 40 residents of the area surrounding St. Katherine Drive, came together in April.

This summer Protect LCF sent letters to the La Cañada Flintridge City Council and to City Manager Mark Alexander asking that the city stop the planned revamp and make the school stick to the enrollment cap imposed in 1994. It has retained public affairs consultant David Gershwin and law firm Jeffer Mangels Butler & Mitchell.

For the past 12 years, the school's enrollment has exceeded the limit of 385 students set out in a conditional use permit granted by the city. Current enrollment is 415.

Protect LCF member Jay Pengra said that as long as Sacred Heart exceeds its enrollment cap, he won't support the campus changes.

“They make an agreement and they don't abide by it. It's untenable,” said Pengra.

Margaret Kean, Sacred Heart's director of development, said the school would be under the cap if the city does not count the 57 students who live on campus.

“We have the distinction of being a boarding school and a day school,” she said. “We need to clarify the intention of the cap and if it's addressing traffic and congestion on the hill, how we can distinguish that.”

Alexander said Sacred Heart has asked the city for an amendment to its permit, and that the enrollment cap issues would be sorted out in that process. That issue may be resolved this fall.

Kean said Protect LCF is mistaken in calling the revamp an expansion.

“We are not looking to increase the community size,” she said. “We are looking to replace outdated buildings. We need to replace those facilities.”

Plans include a new 227-space parking structure on one of the school's existing parking lots — adding a total of 90 new spaces — a 512-seat, 65-foot-tall auditorium, an expanded classroom building and new tennis courts.

Kean said the plans are still being drafted, and there is no set date for construction. The work would take place project by project over a four-year period.

Kean said a new parking structure would reduce congestion on St. Katherine by allowing more cars to queue up on campus for student pick-up and drop-off, and by reducing the need for street parking during events.

St. Katherine Drive resident and Protect LCF member Herm Simpson said that he hasn't had a problem with the school or traffic for the last 40 years, but that the planned work proved to be a “tipping point” for him and other residents.

Simpson said he is worried about construction trucks heading up onto the narrow streets around the school, and that he didn't feel that the city or Sacred Heart are listening.

“I've written nice letters to both the school and City Council offering to help out,” he said. “I didn't even get the courtesy of a ‘thanks for your letter.' Just absolute silence, and that made me mad.”

Kean said the school hopes to work with nearby residents.

“I'm afraid there's some misunderstanding about the intent of this plan,” she said. “We've been here 81 years. We want to be good neighbors.”