Plans for development of Crown of Life Christian Academy in Fort Atkinson took a step forward Tuesday with approval of a preliminary certified survey map of a parcel on the northwest side of the city.
Crown of Life Christian Academy — supported by Bethany Evangelical Lutheran Church in Fort Atkinson — is slated to open this fall on Aug. 22 at Bethany’s site on Roosevelt Street.
“Our vision for this academy is to provide Christ-centered education that achieves excellence,” Dean of Students Matthew Oppermann told supporters during a fundraiser at the church Tuesday night.
“We plan on doing that with a qualified staff and many dedicated and loving teachers,” he said.
The school currently has approximately 120 students signed up for the 2018-19 school year, including approximately 70 in kindergarten through eighth grade and another 50 or more in pre-kindergarten.
Oppermann noted that of those, approximately 15 are from outside the Bethany Lutheran Church congregation, including a family from Edgerton.
“We are extremely ecstatic to let the community in on our vision,” he said. “I can’t stress that enough. That is what our mission is about.”
Oppermann noted that the church only is being used on an interim basis.
“We’re making it work,” he said, acknowledging that it is not the most ideal space.
At Bethany, Oppermann noted, every classroom will be utilized, with one serving a dual purpose as an art room and room for specialized math instruction.
Each grade level — 2K, 3K, 4K — has its own teacher, and then an aide based off the criteria from the state with teacher-pupil ratios.
Pupils in all pre-kindergarten and kindergarten classes will have separate rooms. Classes for grades 1-8 will be divided into grades 1-2, 3-4, 5-6 and 7-8. Each will have one teacher, with some departmentalized teaching going on as well.
In a partnership with CrossFit Fort Atkinson, Crown of Life will be utilizing the fellowship space at Bethany to help the children get moving and have some physical education, despite the lack of a gymnasium.
“We plan on building a facility that meets the needs and a facility that is going to continue to strive for excellence,” Oppermann said of the northwest-side development.
“There are a lot of steps to make that happen,” he said. “We have a strong financial foundation through many donors from within our church community and the outside community that says ‘yes, let’s get this thing moving as fast as we can.’”
Tuesday’s fundraiser was geared toward raising money for installation of new playground equipment at the current site to ensure that students have age-appropriate equipment.
Oppermann noted that with an aggressive mindset, if they are able to break ground as early as this fall, students could be going to class in a new facility by the 2019-20 school year.
“With the current momentum we are gathering, I think that it is the Lord’s blessing that we are going to take this mission further,” he said. “With the new building, we will have more dedicated space to have our school structure thrive.”
The land-acquisition process took a step forward Tuesday at the city’s Planning Commission meeting a couple of hours prior to the fundraiser.
The site under consideration is 40 acres north of Montclair Place on the northwest side of the city. The State Highway 26 bypass is the western boundary of the site and the southern boundary is Montclair Place.
A significant portion of the site is under zoned conservancy and would not allow for building. However, the wooded and wetland area serves as a barrier to the nearby residential development.
Fort Atkinson city engineer Andy Selle said the only concern from the city’s perspective is an overpass anticipated to be developed in the future for Montclair Place to extend over the bypass.
Land associated with that development is included in the academy’s potential property acquisition.
Options are being explored to incorporate the academy’s required retention pond into the space the city already would be using to drain other development as it moves forward with plans for the overpass.
“We do have some preliminary engineering on that,” Selle said.
The site currently isowned by CBF Investments Lexington Center.
The property once was owned by the Allen and Doris Hetts family as Crescent Beauty Farm and portions remain under the CBF Investments Lexington Center ownership.
Crown of Life Academy has an offer to purchase the 40-acre parcel with no designated timeline currently in place.
Phase One would include the gymnasium, the initial set of classrooms, a baseball diamond and soccer field development. A second phase would include space for additonal classrooms and further expansion of the facility to include a large commons/cafeteria area.
Oppermann’s vision is building the early childhood center in Phase 2 and, potentially, the church at the new site as Phase 3.
“The amount of land enables us to do that,” he said.
Once the new facility is built, the classes for children age 2 through kindergarten are expected to remain at the current Bethany Lutheran facility during the first phase of development.
A capital campaign has raised approximately $1.7 million, allowing Crown of Life Academy likely to move forward with acquisition of property without borrowing any funds.
As presented to the Planning Commission Tuesday, the panel was to consider approval of a certified survey map and a rezoning of the site from R-3, R-2, R-1 and conservancy to R-1 and conservancy.
R-3 is high density multi-family residential, R-2 is two-family residential and R-1 is single family.
Prior to the proposed school development, past plans for the site included concepts of multi- and single family development.
“We had an expectation of a larger density of residential out there,” Selle said.
“I think the need and economics of that venture has changed in the past decade or so since that was first proposed,” he added.
No city department representatives offered any comment on the survey map as presented.
Commissioner Rich Frame expressed some interest in the lack of city departmental input on any concern about potential traffic flow in the area that likely would occur with development of a school.
Per the design, there is only one access route, that being on Montclair Place.
“I realize that it is not a high school-type situation where the students will be driving and the student population at the school won’t be that great (in number) to begin with,’ he said. “I guess if I was a resident that selected that part of town to build, I would have selected it with the understanding that it was going to be a pretty quiet area.”
However, Selle indicated that any traffic flow concerns would be discussed when the site plan is presented.
Further, the commission questioned the issue of the rezoning.
“In the past when I’ve been here for these, the property owner comes in and says ‘I would like to have my property rezoned,” Commissioner Laurette Greenhalgh said. “Then we look at it from there.”
Selle explained that from a technical standpoint, Hetts was bringing forward the request. However, he noted that the city asked the owner to address the various zoning issues on the property and smooth out any issues there.
During the course of the meeting, Rodney Hetts explained that he does not want to change the zoning if the sale does not go through.
“I am up to being accommodating to make the sale, if this were to go away, I don’t want to lose the opportunities to have the R-3 zoning going forward,” he said.
Greenhalgh inquired why the zoning was changing and why the change couldn’t wait until Bethany Lutheran (Crown of Life Academy) owned the property.
The city engineer suggested that there likely would be no changes between now and another time.
“I feel a little bit like we have the cart before the horse,” Greenhalgh suggested.
Two neighboring residents expressed some concern to any impact on the wooded area of the parcel under the conservancy designation.
Serge Figliuzzi resides on Premier Place, with a parcel adjacent to the wooded section.
“The whole reason I was looking at purchasing this property is because I didn’t want any development or houses or anything else,” he said. “With it being wetland, I didn’t have to worry about any of that happening.”
He said he was concerned about the parcel being rezoned to R-1 and allowing for future development. It was further clarified that the intention was to rezone the site to R-1 and conservancy.
Figliuzzi and Cathy Price said they were more concerned about what could be done to the wooded area and if it could be clear-cut.
“I just wanted the woods to stay,” he said. “We have a lot of deer and wildlife that the neighbors like to see go through there.”
After the meeting, Crown of Life Academy representatives indicated they have no intention of impacting the wetland or wooded area. They were in favor of maintaining a barrier to other development as much as the surrounding neighbors.
The Planning Commission ultimately approved the certified survey map and advanced approval to the city council. Rezoning likely will be discussed at a later time if ownership of the site changes.