The San Francisco High School of the Arts on Page Street hopes to expand to accommodate up to 250 students. (Kevin N. Hume/S.F. Examiner)

Arts school, neighbors clash over Haight expansion

A proposed expansion of a performing arts school in the Haight was cheered by parents on Thursday but met with uneasiness by neighbors worried about congestion and shadows.

The San Francisco High School of the Arts and its corresponding middle school are seeking to widen a second floor and add a third floor to hold five times the number of students currently enrolled, as well as a handful of housing units for teachers.

But like some Page Street neighbors, the Planning Commission had concerns about impacts on transportation at the corner of Page and Stanyan streets. A vote for approval was delayed on Thursday for at least two more weeks.

Under the proposal, the schools would go from five dance studios and six classrooms across about 31,000 square feet to six dance studios, three music studios, 14 classrooms, two art studios, and seven group housing units over about 55,000 square feet.

Enrollment would shoot up from 43 students, according to pre-coronavirus numbers, to a cap of 250 students.

“It’ll take a while to get to that level,” Larry Badiner, a representative for the schools, told commissioners on Thursday. “We’ve been very open with the neighbors.”

Parents of students who attend the art schools were enthusiastic about increasing the capacity to bring more children into what was described as a thriving and culturally inclusive environment. One parent said his daughter was unable to make it into the public Ruth Asawa School of the Arts and wouldn’t have been able to pursue opera without the Page Street school.

“This is not a typical arts and dance school,” said a parent of twins at the school who identified herself as Natalia. One daughter is in a Chinese dance program that took the mother, who is from Hong Kong, years to find.

“This school offers so many more techniques than other schools. The program and traditional art is truly nourishing for children.”

The Institute for Arts and Culture, which runs the schools, bought the building formerly used by the Boys & Girls Club of San Francisco in 2014. It also seeks the legalization of the space’s use from a community facility to a performing arts school.

But neighbors said there were problems with congestion even at current enrollment levels. They also felt the school has not been transparent in justifying the expansion during community meetings that neighbors have had trouble accessing during the pandemic.

“There’s too many concerns that haven’t been addressed,” said a public commenter who lives across the street. “There has been excessive traffic congestion, there’s constant parking issues and the school has been very aggressive in taking parking away. With 250 students, these issues are going to be out of control.”

Badiner said the pickup and drop off would be staggered with a queue of students waiting with a coordinator indoors and a staffer outdoors to ensure that caregivers did not stay put for more than two-and-a-half minutes. The institute would also seek an extension of the white loading zone space and prohibit double parking.

Commissioners also felt a more robust transportation plan was needed and more questions needed answering. Commissioner Kathrin Moore raised concerns around the “unusual” communal living set up for teachers and artists in residence, as well as the potential for the project to put the Victorian homes to the east into substantial shadow.

“I need a little more about the organizing principles that underly this kind of arrangement,” Moore said about the housing units. “I don’t get the feeling that the community itself is opposed to [the overall proposal], I think it just needs a little more…clarity of what’s intended.”

Commissioners voted unanimously to delay the vote. Planning staff and the institute will answer further questions when the proposal is heard again on Oct. 27.

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