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Draper • Construction continued Thursday on a new American Preparatory Academy high school, in likely violation of permits issued by the Utah Board of Education.
A temporary permit had been extended through April 7, Assistant State Superintendent Natalie Grange said, allowing minimal site work until the state fire marshal can sign off on an emergency access route that reaches the property through a nearby residential neighborhood.
"They were sent a stop-work order this morning by the Board of Education that basically tells them the only thing they have the authority to work on is the road," Grange said. "They're not supposed to be working on the building."
Despite the order to halt construction Thursday morning, crews remained active at the site into the early afternoon.
In a statement sent to The Salt Lake Tribune at 5 p.m., American Preparatory Academy (APA) Chairman Brad Findlay said work was shut down at the site after the school board's order was verified.
"This is simply a misunderstanding, a communication glitch," Findlay said. "We will work to resolve it and are confident we will be back to work quickly and open on time this fall with our new high school."
Thursday's halt order was the second in a string of setbacks for the Draper charter school this week.
Third District Judge Su Chon ruled Tuesday that APA's property falls short of a nearby roadway. Its property is landlocked, relying on an easement to allow vehicle traffic to and from Lone Peak Parkway.
Since 2015, the school has been involved in a property dispute with its neighbor, Price Logistics Center Draper, with the aim of connecting the school's parking lot to a roadway on the property's south side.
APA's governing board, Utah Charter Academies, attempted to use eminent domain to condemn a 2.5-foot-wide strip blocking access to the roadway. Chon denied that action in an earlier ruling that found the unelected charter board does not qualify as a board of education with the statutory right to seize private property.
Since then, the school has purchased a home to the north and converted its driveway into an emergency access route. School representatives have said that unless the property dispute is resolved, the residential property may need to be fully converted into a point of egress and ingress for school traffic.
That plan frustrates residents such as Travis Lucero, who plans to sell his home of 11 years likely at a loss due to the ongoing issues over the school.
"I absolutely hate them," he said. "They're just jerks. They pushed it in there without consulting anybody."
Lucero said neighbors, around Draper's Inauguration Park, have repeatedly asked for concessions like traffic lights, fencing and speed bumps to mitigate road congestion from the school.
But APA has ignored those requests, he said, and state law exempts charter schools from many areas of municipal oversight.
"APA [traffic] blocks the entire neighborhood from getting in," he said. "They're just pretty much doing whatever they want."
Another resident, Nicoleen Richards, said she moved to the area from Seattle on Saturday. She said children are regularly dropped off in front of her home, and then walk to the school through the unfenced gap between Richards' and her neighbor's property.
"They're letting their kids go between the houses even though they're not allowed," she said. "It's a little bit annoying. But I don't know, we'll see how it goes."
David Castleton, an attorney for Price Logistics Center Draper, said the school never received approval to send traffic north through the neighborhood or south through his client's property.
"They want everybody to fix their problem," Castleton said, "even though they bought a crappy piece of property."
He also said that after Chon's ruling, the school's lawsuit has been largely resolved or made moot.
"They'd be crazy to continue on with what's left," Castleton said, "but it wouldn't surprise me if they did."
Grange said the fire marshal is scheduled to visit the property Friday morning to inspect the emergency access road.
Asked about potential consequences for violating construction permits, Grange said the state school board has the ability to fine or sanction schools for noncompliance with laws and policies.
"The Board of Education would have to get together and decide what kind of corrective action they felt was necessary," she said.
Findlay said APA has met every request and deadline during construction of the six campuses it has built. Setbacks, he said, are common in the construction of a new school.
"We do not let it distract us from our core mission," Findlay said, "of providing superior education to our young people."
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