Lichtman strides back across the courtyard to another line of classrooms on the north side. "The majority of the project will be replacing this wing over here. These were never meant to be academic classrooms. They were originally used for wood shop and ceramics shop in the old days. You can see they have support pillars right in the middle of the classroom. And these are much, much smaller. As a matter of fact, there's one room here that's only 400 square feet. So, essentially, we're going to take this wing down and make a two-story classroom building right in its place and just expand the size of the classrooms. We're not adding classrooms, and we're not adding students, we're just making the classrooms bigger."
Down the hallway, Lichtman opens another door leading into a classroom lined with bookshelves. "Another need we have is a library. Right now, this tiny classroom is our library."
Over the years, as many as 500 students have been enrolled at Francis Parker's Mission Hills campus at one time. The school also has a 6th-through-12th-grade campus across Mission Valley in Linda Vista. Currently, Lichtman says, the number is 430. And as part of the conditional use permit, which would result from the city council approving their project, Lichtman says, "We're putting a cap on the student enrollment at 438 students. This will be the first time that the community has ever had the assurance that student enrollment will not grow."
Originally, a strip of public street called Plumosa Way, which runs 100 yards from Randolph Street to the edge of the canyon, was the northern boundary of the school. The street served Parker and two houses on the north side of the street, a blockish pseudo-adobe number on the east and a wood-sided '60s modern to the west on the corner with Randolph. Parker bought the former five years ago and the latter this past summer. "What we have right now," Lichtman says, "with this street running through our campus, is a safety and security issue. Unfortunately, we live in times in which schools just don't have the luxury of having public streets going right through their campuses. So an important part of the plan is making a secure entrance right here on this alley and relandscaping this in here to make a really nice area."
Finally, Parker's planned project would be to tear down the adobe house and build a one-story library and science building in its place. "It was originally going to be a two-story building, but we had comments about that [from the neighborhood] so we changed it to a one-story building. It will actually be much lower than a lot of the houses in the area."
As for the '60s modern next door, "It's going to be a headmaster's residence," Lichtman says. "We've made a commitment in the deed that the home will always be retained as a residential property. It's deed restricted. Not only can we never tear it down and put something there, but we can't even put school offices or classrooms in it. It's going to be maintained as a residence. And, we've made a commitment to maintain the architectural integrity of the house because there's a sensitivity in the neighborhood to that as well."
Scott Borden and his coalition are suspicious of the headmaster's- residence idea. "They've actually used the headmaster's-residence line before," Borden says, "back in the '60s. They bought a house where their tennis courts are now, let it deteriorate, and then their only choice was to tear it down. We assume that's what's going to happen here."
Regarding the deed restrictions on the house, Borden says, "We have a number of attorneys in our group, and their comments on deed restrictions was kind of to laugh. They're unenforceable. And that's what the lawyers are saying about the restrictions is that any attorney worth his salt can get around them."
The absorption of Plumosa Way into the campus is one of the neighborhood coalition's points of contention for a number of reasons. One has to do with parking. "One of the issues," Lichtman acknowledges, "is that over time some of our faculty have parked on this street, and now we are going to lose that parking. But we're putting on-site parking onto the campus for the first time ever. We've proposed a parking lot taking over where our tennis courts are on the other side of campus. We're taking those out, and we're going to put in 33 parking places. So there's going to be a significant net increase in available parking, which will be getting cars off the street."
Aside from parking issues, the annexing of Plumosa Way and the plans to build north of it rile Borden because he sees the action as Francis Parker oozing out of what he calls its "existing footprint" and spreading into the neighborhood. "So really, issue number one for us in the neighborhood is one of footprint -- remaining within their current boundaries. We say it stops here," he points to the south side of Plumosa Way on his site map. "We say it doesn't go any further than this. We don't want you to expand into a residential neighborhood. Our feeling is, if we give them this," he puts his finger on the proposed library and science building on the map, "ten years later they're going to want a couple of more houses, and in another ten years they're going to want more. It's just not acceptable."