A West Kendall charter school received the Miami-Dade County commission's approval Thursday to expand and increase its enrollment. But the go-ahead came with a caveat to limit bringing more traffic into the area.
In front of a packed audience, the commission said BridgePrep Academy could only expand its K-8 center near SW 120th street and Tamiami Executive Airport up to a maximum of 1,500 students. The school wants to include grades nine through 12, and had asked the county commission for zoning approval to develop new building space and increase its current enrollment from 600 to more than 2,200 students.
BridgePrep representatives said the expansion would not increase traffic, in part because the school would have three separate dismissal times. But opponents of the plan and commissioners themselves disagreed, saying the originally proposed expansion would increase congestion in the already traffic-heavy area.
"I can support the school growing. I can't support those numbers," said County Commissioner Dennis Moss, whose district 9 includes the school. "There is no way in the world that you can add that number of students in that corridor and not impact it."
Commission Chair Esteban Bovo Jr. added that the proposal reflected a recurring theme with development plans that can increase traffic in Miami-Dade County. He said the commission has to be aggressive when considering how proposals will affect traffic.
But Miguel Diaz De La Portilla, the lawyer representing Bridgeprep Academy, noted that the limit on the expansion will keep the charter school from offering new elective programs. He said the school must be a certain size in order for some of its elective programs and extracurricular activities to be feasible.
"[The limit] requires us to compromise to some degree the richness of the academic program," he said.
The commissioners also questioned the need for the conversion of the K-8 center into a high school. They noted that nearby Miami Killian and Sunset high schools are under-enrolled.
As a result, they discussed creating a new process in which they consider the enrollment of existing schools when voting on zoning proposals for new schools. Commissioner Rebeca Sosa said creating a new school in an area where there is an under-enrolled existing school contributes to congestion.
"If you have enough space [at an existing school] for the population of that area, why bring in more schools that are going to be mostly empty but are going to be more infrastructure and going to bring more requests and necessity for more transportation connection," said Sosa.