Planning Commission OKs Cannon Beach Academy site

The Cannon Beach Academy hopes to open a charter school at the former Preschool and Children's Center.

The Cannon Beach Academy is one step closer to opening this fall in the former Preschool and Children’s Center building.

The Planning Commission voted unanimously and with little discussion Thursday, June 22, to grant a conditional use permit to the kindergarten- through- second- grade charter school. Any exterior changes or modifications still need to be reviewed by the Design Review Board before the school can acquire a building permit to move forward with the project, City Planner Mark Barnes said.

Although establishing the academy in Cannon Beach has been in the works for more than four years, the last-minute need to find a new location came when the board received an estimate of $150,000 over the $90,000 they budgeted for construction costs at the original location on Sunset Boulevard.

An almost identical request was approved by the Planning Commission in May 2015 and again in January at 171 Sunset Blvd.

David Vonada, of Tolovana Architects, said at the meeting most of the work will be small safety improvements, like improving exit signs and making door handles Americans with Disabilities Act accessible, and expects few to no external changes.

“This building was just meant to be,” Vonada said.

While the city, which owns the property, did assess the building to be structurally sound and found that a charter school would not impact traffic significantly, the former Children’s Center is not without flaws.

The site is technically within the tsunami inundation area, according to a map done in 2013 by the Oregon Department of Geology and Mineral Industries. However, this map has no regulatory power, meaning the school can choose to do with that information what it may, Barnes said.

It is the 1995 tsunami inundation map, also prepared by the state, that rules schools cannot be built in the tsunami zone without a formal consultation with the state. The Children’s Center site is outside of the 1995 version of the zone, and therefore not bound by these restrictions.

One of the reasons the original elementary school closed in 2013 was due to tsunami safety concerns. But neither Vonada, Planning Commission chair Bob Lundy or Barnes found this to be a high priority issue for the charter school because of the site’s proximity to evacuation routes and access to higher ground.

“With the old elementary school, it’s a 20 minute walk to higher ground, and you would have to cross a bridge,” Barnes said.

Because the school has opted to use a parent rideshare system instead of a school bus, Commissioner Joe Bernt raised concerns about possible congestion in what is already a narrow parking lot with only one exit.

“We will have a half-hour drop-off window to give students extra time,” Cannon Beach Academy Executive Director Amy Moore told the Planning Commission.

Other aspects, such as additional ADA requirements or fire code improvements, are to be determined later by the city’s building official.

The city is still negotiating with academy representatives on a three-year lease, which is the amount of time academy board members expect to outgrow the space. The school has also hired two teachers, Dawn Jay from Aloha and Melissa Kennedy from Klammath Falls, Moore said.

As of Thursday, 40 students were enrolled to start in the fall, Moore said.

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