A Christian school that hopes to open on the Sandy Springs/Dunwoody border promised neighbors limited traffic and on-site growth in a final community meeting Dec. 11.
The new Dunwoody Christian School, which wants to occupy part of Dunwoody Community Church in the panhandle area, will next take its request for a use permit to the Sandy Springs Planning Commission on Jan. 23. A City Council vote is expected to follow in February.
Around 10 community members showed up at Sandy Springs City Hall for the Dec. 11 meeting about the school, which plans to open next August at 2250 Dunwoody Club Drive. Among them was Planning Commission chair Lane Frostbaum, who lives in the area and asked some questions about traffic and carpooling.
Bob Baima, the school’s headmaster and co-founder, tried to settle “two major concerns from the community”: traffic and possible expansion.
Attendees appeared to accept Baima’s word that the school would move if it ever expanded beyond the four small rooms it plans to occupy, all of which already exist inside the church. There was more resistance to Baima’s claim of no significant traffic impact, though the handful of attendees disagreed among themselves as to whether traffic outside the church is currently gridlocked in the mornings.
The school is an independent nonprofit unaffiliated with the church, which it would occupy as a tenant. The plan involves no construction per se, but Baima said the fire marshal requires the installation of a fire exit door in each room and a related sidewalk outside.
Baima’s long-term goal is to run a full K-12 program, but he said the school would begin next year by occupying three room at most and expand to the fourth room in 2019 if there was demand. He said any expansion beyond that on-site would require extensive construction inside the church, which is “highly unlikely, highly undesirable” and “does not make any sense business-wise” due to the expense and the lack of ownership rights. So the school plans to move if it grows further as intended, he said.
On the less predictable topic of traffic, Baima said the most intensive scenario would have negligible impact. He said the four classrooms can hold at maximum 48 students, plus seven staff members. If the school was fortunate enough to have maximum occupancy, and if each student and staff arrived alone by car, that would be a maximum of 55 vehicles, he said. That is below the 100-vehicle threshold for a government-required traffic study, a city planning staff member at the meeting confirmed, and well below the church’s parking lot capacity of around 100 spaces. The school also filed a carpooling plan with the city, Baima said.
Some attendees were in total disagreement as to how badly traffic in the area backs up now, or even whether it does at all. Meanwhile, Baima offered his own “unscientific” mini-study, conducted on two November mornings in the 7 o’clock hour when the school would open. He said he timed traffic passing through the light at the intersection of Mount Vernon Road and Dunwoody Club and Brooke Farm drives, reporting that lined-up traffic got through in one light cycle in all but two out of 35 times.
He also “absolutely guarantees” no back-ups at the church driveway, because it was built to handle 300 attendees and has not had problems in many years of operation.
Baima addressed one other local concern: fears that his school could encourage the nearby Life Center Ministries church to revive a commercial daycare proposal that was highly controversial five years ago. Life Center renewed community concerns recently with noise complaints and an attempt to gain a higher-density zoning designation in case of a possible property sale. Baima said he not had any discussions with Life Center and noted that the city considers zoning requests on their own merits, not on what other property owners have done or might do.
The proposal for a school inside the church began in May 2016 under a different leader, with the Baimas later taking over the concept and refiling it.
Baima, who formerly worked at IBM, is an Army Reserve chaplain and served in Iraq a decade ago. He and wife Cindy founded the school after being unable to find one similar in the area for their own children, now ages 4 and 6. Bob Baima said the couple decided through prayer that God wanted them to start the nondenominational, evangelical Christian school. It is intended as a “covenant school,” where all staff and at least one parent of each student formally agree with the school’s generally conservative “Statement of Faith,” unlike some open-enrollment religious schools.
While Dunwoody Community Church is separate from the school, the Baimas have a strong personal connection to it. Bob Baima said that one factor in his moving to metro Atlanta was that his childhood friend was a pastor there, and the couple were married in the church.
The church has operated there for nearly 40 years, with a modern, large sanctuary built about 13 years ago, both predating the incorporation of the cities of Dunwoody and Sandy Springs. In that area today, Dunwoody Club Drive is the border between the two cities.
Correction: This article has corrected a typographical error regarding the headmaster’s informal traffic count, which found traffic passing through the nearby intersection almost all the time.