City cites multiple safety concerns at Blackfoot charter school

BLACKFOOT — Bingham Academy’s occupancy in a strip mall jeopardizes student safety and places a range of burdens on surrounding businesses, says Blackfoot City Planner Kurt Hibbert.

“Visual inspection and observation (of the school) as it exists today present … an ongoing risk to public health, safety and welfare,” Hibbert wrote in a five-page staff report to the Blackfoot Planning and Zoning Commission on Sept. 10. “This is especially evident in the ongoing conflict between students, businesses and the school.”

Hibbert’s concerns come ahead of Tuesday night’s Blackfoot Planning and Zoning Commission hearing to determine the school’s future use of a movie theater housed inside the strip mall.

The staff report — and Bingham’s scathing response — mark the latest development in a year-long feud over the school’s use of the facility. The school released a statement Monday lambasting Hibbert’s report.

In the report, Hibbert flagged a range of “observed” issues at Bingham:

  • Creation of a hallway passage, with no permit, that breached a joint between structural walls and “should be examined and approved by a structural engineer.”
  • Unescorted students coming and going from the school, at times becoming “stranded” between traffic lanes on a boulevard dividing the city.
  • Student vehicles “speeding” across painted lines in the parking lot.
  • Students being picked up and dropped off in front of adjoining businesses.
  • Students congregating in the strip mall’s back-loading alleyway, presenting a “hazard to parked vehicles and through traffic, including loading trucks and vehicles.”
  • The lack of yards, open spaces, pathways, walls or fences.
  • Lingering conflicts over parking for the school and businesses.

Hibbert’s report provides the commission with several recommendations regarding the permit:

  • Approval with stipulated conditions in compliance with city code.
  • Submission and implementation of a transportation safety analysis and mitigation plan for traffic and pedestrian safety concerns.
  • A transition plan for finding a more suitable location.

The school countered Hibbert’s report, saying state rules governing the Idaho Public Charter School Commission have ensured adequate safety at Bingham. The school’s statement also said the city made no attempt to obtain records related to its report.

Hibbert’s claim about structural modifications without a permit is one of several “false and inflammatory statements,” school officials wrote. “This claim is patently false, and easily disproved by the school’s own records.”

The school said it first received Hibbert’s report Thursday.

Bingham applied for a temporary conditional use permit with the city in August, following months of debate over the school’s requirement to apply.

Citing noncompliance with city land use code, the commission previously ordered the school to discontinue further use of the facility. Bingham decried the city’s order but eventually applied for the permit.

The commission could make a decision and establish conditions for the permit Tuesday night. The school could appeal the commission’s decision with the City Council. The hearing starts at 7 p.m. at the Blackfoot Performing Arts Center at Blackfoot High School, 870 S. Fisher St., Blackfoot.

Bingham typically enrolls around 100 students.

Check back here Wednesday morning for the outcome of tonight’s meeting.

Other issues for Bingham

The Charter School Commission investigated Bingham and Blackfoot Charter Community Learning Center for months over allegations of questionable internal controls and financial practices.

In March, the commission hired a forensic auditing firm to probe for possible embezzlement. A final report of the $20,000 audit prompted commission chairman Alan Reed to issue a letter to Bingham County Prosecutor Paul Rogers, outlining concerns that former Bingham and Blackfoot administrator Fred Ball might have violated Idaho’s bribery and corrupt influence laws and other state codes.

Ball retired from the schools in June.

Rogers told EdNews last week that authorities are still investigating Reed’s concerns, which revolve largely around the purchase of modular classrooms at the schools.

EdNews uncovered a series of transactions related to the purchase in January.

Devin Bodkin

Devin Bodkin

EdNews assistant editor and reporter Devin Bodkin is a former high school English teacher who specializes in stories about charter schools and educating students who live in poverty. He lives and works in East Idaho. Follow Devin on Twitter @dsbodkin. He can be reached by email at [email protected].

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