Under fire from Hollywood neighbors, school trims size of planned campus

After hearing concerns from Hollywood residents who say traffic is already infuriatingly snarled, officials from Ben Gamla Charter School on Thursday said they plan on reducing the size of a proposed high school to hold 600 students instead of 1,050.

The announcement came as part of a community meeting to allow everyone on both sides of the issue to learn more about Ben Gamla’s proposal to build a high school across the street from its charter K-through-eight school at 2620 Hollywood Blvd.

The community meeting was set up by the city ahead of city staff making a recommendation as to whether the Hebrew-language school should be allowed to rise on a 1.5-acre site on Van Buren Street that now houses a multi-family residential building and two single-family homes.

School supporters have said education trumps traffic, but homeowners say the residential neighborhood is not suited for a school.

Alan Koslow, the attorney who represents the school, and a traffic engineer for Ben Gamla said in addition to reducing the number of students, Ben Gamla will also stagger school start and finish times and reconfigure carpool lanes to help move the cars along.

“It’s going to be better than it is,” Koslow said after the meeting.

The meeting held Thursday at City Hall was a far tamer than a town hall meeting held last month. City Manager Cathy Swanson-Rivenbark said the city was aware of the passion behind the issue and wanted to hear from everyone.

“We think it is very important that you all get heard,” she said.

Last month, the meeting spilled outside City Hall after hundreds of people showed up. This time, each side was given 56 tickets, so both would be equally represented.

A few seats remained empty on the neighborhood side. Some homeowners donned shirts that read “Neighborhoods 1st Not Lobbyists.”

During the comment session, most of the residents said they were for education, but against the location.

“We want you here. You are achievers. But you are on the wrong street,” said 40-year resident Mel Pollak.

The side reserved for school supporters was full with parents, students and school officials.

Most argued that the A-rated school enhances the community, and that they are willing to work with neighbors on the traffic situation.

“I think we as a community can work together and make Ben Gamla High School work,” said Jill Zeller, who has a daughter in second grade at the existing school.

The meeting included a brief overview from the city, including how it has it has already looked into the traffic situation.

“Schools are good. I just need to make sure the traffic works,” said Laura Borgesi, the city’s traffic engineer.

Then the applicant had 20 minutes to present its proposal, which needs to be approved by Hollywood and the Broward County School Board.

“It’s a great use,” Koslow said.

After the meeting, Commissioner Peter Hernandez said while the applicant reduce the number of students, that still doesn’t change the concerns.

“They still plan on doubling the traffic, and they haven’t shown how that is going to be resolved,” he said.