PORTSMOUTH – The Board of Adjustment unanimously approved granting a variance to allow the Hope for Tomorrow Foundation to build a new St. Patrick School off Banfield Road.

The new K-8 school will be called St. Patrick’s Academy and is scheduled to open in the fall of 2017.

A crowded City Hall Chambers filled by St. Patrick students, parents and supporters burst into applause after the board approved the variance so a school could operate in an industrial zone.

Board member Christopher Mulligan, who made the motion to approve the variance, said he could not imagine how allowing a school to operate in the area would negatively impact surrounding properties.

The current school is on Austin Street. “I live across the street from St. Pat’s and have never had any negative effect,” Mulligan said. “(They’re) a very good neighbor.”

Jim Broom, founder of the Hope for Tomorrow Foundation, told board members he started the foundation “when it became clear that the future of the school was at risk.”

St. Patrick School Athletic Director Rick Bean said the school just hosted its first home soccer game in 149 years at the Community Campus.

The Hope for Tomorrow Foundation is buying roughly 10 acres of land for the new school from the Foundation for Seacoast Health. The school has never had its own athletic fields, Bean said, but now thanks to the partnership with Community Campus it will have a home soccer field, basketball court and cross country trails.

Today’s parents and students “want to know about your physical plant, they want to know about your technology, they want to know about your after-school programs,” he said. He stressed the new school will offer students a complete “faith-based quality educational opportunity.”

Eighth-grader Sarah Leahy appeared in her school uniform Tuesday night to implore board members to approve the variance. Sarah, who has attended the school for seven years, said “it’s impacted my life immensely.” “The school has prepared me to have the skills and confidence to succeed inside and outside the school,” she said.

The new school will feature an 18,000-square-foot facility designed to promote energy efficiency and environmental sustainability, including solar power. The space will support project-based learning, individualized learning plans for each student and programming flexibility.

The school will no longer be a parochial school – where it’s tied to one church – but would become an independent Catholic school with a lay board of directors from the Hope for Tomorrow Foundation.

Attorney Peter Loughlin, who represented the foundation at Tuesday’s hearing, said the school’s enrollment, which is about 130, has been hurt by the condition of the current school. “It’s a challenge in terms of recruiting,” said Loughlin, a St. Pat’s alumni. “They (parents) say where’s the playground, where’s the cafeteria and the auditorium and the gymnasium.”

BOA Chairman David Rheaume asked about the traffic impact the school would have on Banfield Road. Several Banfield Road residents have already complained about traffic from the nearby Water Country.

“You are going to have a large amount of traffic that’s going to be occurring in relatively short periods,” Rheaume said.

Loughlin said a traffic study found that during the peak traffic volume in the mornings school traffic will add “183 vehicles … entering or exiting.” He also noted the school will be closed on weekends and in the summer when Water Country is open.

Rheaume and other board members asked about the safety of students walking on Banfield Road, where there are no sidewalks. Loughlin said the city was in the preliminary stages of developing a plan to install sidewalks along at least one side of the road, which features a mix of residential and industrial uses.

St. Patrick School was founded in 1868, Loughlin said in documents filed with the city.

“In 2014, city officials notified the parish that the school fell short of satisfying many present-day code requirements,” Loughlin said in city documents. “The city administration indicated a willingness to work with the school so that a transition could be made to an updated or new building, but the city was firm that the school could not continue indefinitely in the present facility in its current state.”