Concern about plans to build a 400-student charter high school is still running high in two Gilbert neighborhoods, despite the fact a formal plan hasn't been submitted to the town.
Great Hearts Academies operates five schools throughout the Valley, including Chandler Preparatory Academy, which is currently housed in a shopping center at Warner Road and Arizona Avenue.
The nonprofit group wants to build a new campus for that school on 10 acres leased from the First United Methodist Church of Gilbert, 331 S. Cooper Road, including athletic fields and a 600-seat auditorium that would be shared with the church and could be made available for other users.
A traffic study of the area is ongoing, according to a Dec. 8 letter sent out by the church to nearby homeowners, but Veronica Ross, president of the Candlewood Homeowners Association, said the surrounding streets are simply too narrow to handle the amount of cars that the school would generate.
"I don't see any way they can solve this problem, logically and logistically, in a way that would be acceptable to the neighbors," she said.
The land was donated to Gilbert Unified School District when the area was first built up almost 20 years ago, but the district decided against putting a school there and eventually sold the property to the adjacent church.
Gilbert Town Councilwoman Joan Krueger belongs to the church and sits on a church committee that has been working with Great Hearts on the project. Krueger said traffic isn't expected to be a problem, in part because this won't be a typical high school and in some cases the administration will have greater control.
"It gets to make its own rules that a similar public school could not," she said. "They don't have a marching band, they can talk about rules of operation, they're a closed campus so no one leaves at lunch and you're only talking about 400 students."
Officials at Great Hearts Academies could not be reached for comment Friday. The schools are known for their rigorous curriculum and choose their students on a lottery basis.
But Ross and others say they're not reassured by the schools' reputation. "It doesn't matter if you're at a prep school or a typical public school, a high school kid is a high school kid," she said.
She said she also has no assurances that the school's mission won't change if the concept should fail in Gilbert for some reason.
Other Gilbert Town Council members have expressed some concerns over the concept, but are taking a wait-and-see approach.
If and when the school plan does come to a vote, Krueger said, she won't be voting on it, despite the fact she doesn't have a financial interest in the plan, which would force her to declare a conflict of interest.
"I'm going to recuse myself from this vote, not because I have to, but because I don't want anyone to misunderstand my intentions here," she said.