Raintree Learning Community plans move to Town & Country
By: Molly James
The Town & Country Aldermen conducted the first reading Sept. 10 of a proposed ordinance to approve the Preliminary Site Develop Plan (PSDP) that would allow Raintree Learning Community to develop a 7,210-square-foot preschool and kindergarten with an additional 1,090-square-foot covered area on a 10.96 acre site. The school would be located in a Suburban Estate zone. Schools are permitted under SE zoning.
Raintree currently operates a three classroom school in Ballwin with 42 students ages three to six. The school vision statement reads: “Instill in each child confidence, integrity, reverence and wonder.” According to Founders Brandi N. Cartwright and Ilya Eydelman, this is done by stressing the importance of the providing an environment that will enable their students to recognize, accept and express their own contributions as “members of our global society.”
Cartwright and Eydelman hope to bring the school’s Reggio Emilia learning style, named after a town in Italy, to Town & Country. However, the proposed move from their current location in Ballwin to a new development on Amonte Drive off Mason and Manchester roads is cause for concern among some nearby residents.
At the Board of Aldermen meeting, Dr. Scott Martin, a Town & Country resident who lives near the proposed school, shared a petition from 51 residents who do not believe this is the proper location for a school.
“I am sure it is an excellent learning community,” Martin said. “But my concern is the attempt to locate to S. Mason Road, because at peak traffic hours this would create a problem.”
In response to this concern, Alderman Chuck Lenz observed that, “from 7 a.m. until 9 a.m. last Thursday students were dropped off [at the school's current location] in staggered intervals.”
It was noted that the traffic study prepared by Crawford, Bunte, Brammeier, Traffic and Transportation Engineers, concluded that traffic generated by the school should have little impact. Drop off and pickup times will be staggered, and only 20 parking spaces will be provided. There are currently five parking spaces at their existing location that are seldom filled simultaneously.
But the current school and the one being proposed are not identical. The proposed, expanded school would have four teaching classrooms and would hold an upper limit of 70 children with a realistic expectation of 64.
Town & Country Mayor Jon Dalton questioned measures that would ensure that expansion would not continue to occur.
It was suggested this issue could be alleviated by having limitations written into the proposed ordinance, restricting the school’s future growth. Cartwright mentioned that the school does have a waiting list and they do limit class size.
Some residents expressed concerns about the property’s future use. In response to these zoning concerns, city attorney Steven Garrett stated that, in his legal opinion, the proposal was a school, that it has permitted use and that its approval would not set a precedent for commercial development of the property if Raintree ever moved from the location.
For its part, the school hopes to remain at the new location because it is perfect for their needs and the needs of the students.
Didi Noelker, of Town & Country, spoke in favor of the request and expressed concern over the existing property’s lack of maintenance and care over the past several years. She and her husband live immediately to the south of the subject property on Mason Road.
Tim Noelker said he does not want to wait any longer for the possibility of a residential developer. He added that the increase in traffic will be minimal and that he would prefer to have the school with its 91 percent green space as his neighbor.
Raintree emphasizes learning outside the classroom and is a co-founder of the Gateway Children’s Nature Connection for greater outdoor learning for young children.
Eydelman said 91 percent of the property would be green space due to the fundamentals of their teaching approach.
“You will not see the brightly colored primary play structures found at other schools,” said Eydelman. “Our entire playscape is green and we would put this fallow land to good use.”
Additional green elements would include a proposed rooftop garden and the preservation of surrounding woodlands.
Holly Simmons, a teacher in the Parkway School District and a mother of two “Raintree children,” one a graduate and the other a current student, stands behind the green school and the play-based learning and exploring.
“My daughter knows more about gardening and growing organic food than I do,” Simmons said. “Raintree has played a vital role in the development of so many creative, critically-thinking individuals with an overwhelming curiosity and love of nature.”
She added that, “Our children’s experiences at Raintree have been invaluable. I can only imagine the positive impact the addition of this school would have on any community and I am excited for all of the possibilities this new campus holds for future students and families of Raintree.”
The second reading will take place at the Board of Aldermen meeting on Sept. 24.