The Royal Palm Beach Village Council unanimously approved an application last week to allow a charter school to open at the old Albertsons grocery store site at the corner of Crestwood and Southern boulevards.
A roomful of parents and store owners, including a Walgreens regional manager, came out March 1 to express support for the school.
Charter Schools USA plans to put a school at the site teaching kindergarten through eighth grade. It will be called the Renaissance Charter School at Palms West, and officials expect to open this upcoming school year.
However, there have been concerns raised about traffic congestion at the site. Last Tuesday, Royal Palm Beach’s Planning & Zoning Commission had voted 3-2 to recommend denying the application over traffic concerns.
Councilman Fred Pinto raised the traffic concerns at last Thursday’s meeting.
Planning & Zoning Administrator Bradford O’Brien said village staff’s recommendation for approval included conditions that the school would monitor traffic and that if traffic started to back up during pick-up and drop-off times, the school would stagger times by grades and possibly install a traffic light on Crestwood Blvd. at the northeast entrance to the shopping plaza.
O’Brien pointed out that a county traffic study had indicated that a traffic light is not warranted now.
The charter school application is a special exception from the parcel’s current zoning as general commercial. The school will have up to 1,145 students in kindergarten through eighth grade, with about six classes per grade. The school’s operating hours will be from 7 a.m. to 6 p.m., with preschool care offered from 7 to 8 a.m. and afterschool care from 2:30 to 6 p.m.
Cross access will be built to connect the Palms West Hospital campus to the school property, in accordance with a cross access agreement recorded by the hospital. There would be three other entry points for pick-up and drop-off — at the southwest corner of the property at Southern Blvd., on Crestwood Blvd. between the Wendy’s restaurant and a retail building, and another point farther north where the traffic light might be installed.
Traffic would be routed in three lanes around the north side of the school to a pick-up and drop-off point on the west side. Six rows of the existing parking lot would be converted into a playground.
O’Brien added that the school has received traffic approval from the county with conditions requiring future studies.
Richard Page, vice president of development for Charter Schools USA, explained that charter schools are tuition-free and publicly financed but operated by a private organization.
“The school will be open to all, publicly funded and free with no tuition,” he said. “Parents choose to come. It’s a school of choice. It’s an option to provide a high-quality education choice to the residents in your community.”
Page said that Charter Schools USA has been in operation for years with a high record of success. “We began operating schools in 1997,” he said. “We are one of the oldest and longest-running charter school organizations in the country. We operate 27 campuses, 31 charters with over 25,000 students in our network in three states. We started in Florida and have grown.”
He pointed out that Charter Schools USA has received accreditation from the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools. “It’s the gold standard for measurement of quality in schools today,” Page said. “Many public schools are accredited; charter schools are accredited as well, individually. Our organization is the only management organization ever to receive accreditation as a system. This means every school that we have is accredited, including every new school that we open, so this school will receive accreditation the day it opens.”
Page added that his company’s schools have outperformed the state average in proficiency ratings in every category for the past 10 years.
“We have a long track record of success,” he said. “We know how to get results, and we are very excited about being a part of this community.”
Several members of the public spoke in favor of the school, including Walgreens Regional Manager Jeff Swenson, whose company operates a store adjacent to the site. “As a health provider, we look forward to keeping those 1,100 kids healthy. That store has been there since 2001. It always was one of our most successful stores until a year and a half ago,” Swenson said, referring to when the Albertsons closed.
Swenson added that any traffic inconvenience during drop-off and pick-up times would be more than offset by the benefits.
Councilman Richard Valuntas said he supported the application. “This group does have a proven track record,” he said. “They have done their due diligence.”