At its Tuesday night meeting, the Redwood City Planning Commission entertained a proposal from a husband-and-wife team that wants to start a new private school for the transitional kindergarten through fifth grades on site at the Redwood Baptist Church, 2323-2325 Euclid Ave., not far from the existing public Roosevelt School.
Nicholas and Carol Berg say they will call the school The Cambridge Academy, and would welcome up to 180 students in total and charge approximately $11,000 to $12,000 per year for tuition.
However, many neighbors who live close to Redwood Baptist Church don't seem happy about the idea. They say traffic is already heavy during morning commute hours in the neighborhood - particularly due to its proximity to both Roosevelt School and Highway 101 - and fear it would only get worse with the addition of a school of that size.
The site's controversial history
According to the City of Redwood City, a previous school that operated at the church left a bad taste in many mouths just a few years ago.
The private Woodside Hills Christian Academy (WHCA) suddenly sprouted up at the same location back in 2007 - before receiving permission from the City.
The K-12 school suddenly pumped roughly 101 new loud, bustling families into the formerly quiet neighborhood - blocking driveways, double parking, dangerously jaywalking and upping the noise level of the residential neighborhood significantly.
As neighbors complained, the City downgraded the school's capacity, first to 80 students, then to 50, and the school was eventually closed down in 2009.
A few families that have lived in their adjacent homes for several decades, including during the rocky WHCA times, said it was "disastrous."
Dawn Ward, who lives in the 1000 block of Connecticut Drive, right near the end of the church's long driveway in which the Bergs say 35-45 cars could line up to drop off students, said, "I was very aware of WHCA. When it opened, it had 100 students and it was very disastrous in terms of traffic, noise and use of the facilities."
"Thirty-five cars is a long line of cars to have in your backyard," she said.
Ward said she is even more concerned when she hears that the new Cambridge Academy school wants to enroll up to double what WHCA did.
"I don't see how the children could be safe, adding 200 more to that mix, as it is proposed now. That's my concern now, and I think it's shared by many of our neighbors," she added. "And I think we should support public schools, so I don't think we need a new private one in that location."
The vision for the new school
Nicholas and Carol Berg say their vision is for Cambridge Academy to be "a small, family-run business whose focus will always be 'students first.'"
The school will offer transitional kindergarten (TK) through fifth grade, and the Bergs say they want to start small and gradually build up the student body.
In the first year, they say they would enroll only 65 students, the second year 120 students, the fourth year 140 students, the fifth year 150 students, and finally, in its sixth year, potentially reach its proposed maximum capacity of 180 students.
The Bergs say they want no class to have more than 20 students, and that the school's foundational core will be "the 3 Rs" - reading, writing and arithmetic.
To deal with potential traffic issues during morning drop-off time, the Bergs have proposed staggered class start times, with second through fifth grades starting between 7:45-8:00 a.m., and TK through first grades starting between 8-8:15 a.m. Drop-off times would be staggered similarly, with the older students leaving at 3-3:15 p.m. and the younger students at 3:15-3:30.
Additionally, the school would offer after-school care until 6 p.m.
The Bergs also say they have the full support of the church, and that they would strive to never hold events at the same time as church activities. Pastor Ryan Johnson, who was present at the meeting, said most church activities take place on Sundays, though the church does have a 7 p.m. Wednesday service that usually attracts around 50 people.
To calm some fears, the Bergs also said they plan to promote the school as a "neighborhood-serving school," and not attempt to attract students from all over the Peninsula who would need to commute there.
"We would like to see this be a neighborhood-serving school, and encourage the students and their families to be 'green' and walk to school," Nicholas Berg said. "We don't intend to bus people in from other areas; we plan to promote this school to the local neighborhood."
However, one Connecticut Avenue resident shot down that statement, saying that, on at least the three closest streets to his home, which is right near the church, "there are no young kids," and that all the homes are owned by older residents like him who all bought their homes back in the 1970s and have lived there ever since.
The Bergs said they also hope the school will really add to the value and benefit of Redwood City by creating local jobs and increasing the values of nearby homes, as well as attract new home-buyers to the area.
Again, however, local neighbors present at the meeting disagreed with that philosophy.
One female resident of the immediate neighborhood said that she consulted real estate agents when she first heard the new school was being proposed, and learned that a home near "good public schools" can experience positive valuation, but not when the school is private, unless it's a very affluent neighborhood overall.
Furthermore, she said, because of her home's close proximity to the church's long driveway where cars would queue up for drop-off, that her home's most recent assessed value had decreased.
Does Redwood City need more schools?
Mike Kastrop, the proposed architect for the Cambridge Academy project who would be in charge of remodeling the facilities to accomodate the new school, was the sole speaker in favor of the proposal at Tuesday night's Planning Commission meeting.
Kastop is also the president of Redwood City's Downtown Business Group.
"Redwood City is expanding and growing; we're going thru a 'renaissance' right now," he said. "Yes, we have traffic, but we need to get over it and deal with it."
Kastrop pointed out that there are at least 1,000 new living units either under construction or in the planning process currently in Redwood City.
"These families are going to need more good schools," he said.
Nicholas Berg echoed that sentiment, and said that, by his research, 15 out of the 16 closest private schools all have long waiting lists, so he feels there is truly a need for such a school in the area.
Commissioners tentative about project idea
While Tuesday night's meeting was only the first study session on the idea of the Cambridge Academy's proposal, most Planning Commissioners seemed hesitant to express support for the new school just yet.
Most said "location, location, location" was what was most on their minds at this early stage.
"Is this the right time, right place, right location? That's what I'm struggling with right now," said Commissioner Randy Tabing.
Tabing said, from his perspective, the greatest growth Redwood City is currently experiencing is in the downtown area, so perhaps additional schools are needed there, more than in the area surrounding Redwood Baptist Church, where Roosevelt School is only 100 feet away.
Commissioner Shawn White said he spent "half his life in public schools, and certainly benefited from it," so he could see the need for new, quality private schools in Redwood City, but that the potential increase in traffic in the neighborhood was what concerned him at the moment.
Chairman Ernie Schmidt agreed.
"My concerns right off the bat would definitely be noise and traffic," he said. "I think it's going to be a huge challenge, to be honest with you, to address the increase in noise in the morning time."
PATCH WANTS TO KNOW - Do you think Redwood City could benefit from a new private school such as the Cambridge Academy? What do you think of the proposed location at the Redwood Baptist Church? Tell us your thoughts in the comments below.
Stay informed on the latest news from your local neighborhood - follow Patch!
Sign up for Redwood City-Woodside Patch’s daily newsletter
"Like” us on Facebook
"Follow” us on Twitter
Want to share your opinions with the communities of Redwood City and Woodside? Start your own blog here.