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Traffic questions pull preschool proposal into slow lane

Traffic at the proposed Goddard School site adjacent to Math and Science Academy was the center of a discussion at a Woodbury Planning Commission meeting last week. (Staff photo by Riham Feshir)

A new preschool and day care center is proposing to build a 10,000 square-foot building at an already congested site in Woodbury.

Goddard School, a franchise with locations in Brooklyn Park, Chanhassen and Plymouth, plans to add its newest site at the corner of Radio and Pioneer drives.

But the application was put on hold last week when the city’s Planning Commission requested additional data regarding traffic patterns and parking.

The proposed site is adjacent to Math and Science Academy’s two buildings along with two other businesses sharing the same access road.

Planning Commission members were concerned about overlapping drop off and pick-up times between the two schools and if there are enough parking spaces for all uses in the development.

“I just don’t see where we’re going to put everybody,” Commissioner Al Rudnickas said.

He said the existing traffic pattern already creates backups onto Pioneer Drive and additional cars would make it even more congested.

“It’s not a good scenario today,” Rudnickas said.

The entire eight-acre commercial development was approved in 1996 as an office park district with one acre left remaining for this proposal.

Tina Joens, a partner in the Woodbury Goddard School franchise, said school leaders have been looking at traffic patterns and haven’t had issues at the other locations.

Parents park and take their children inside the school, which is why there is no designated drop-off location.

“You always think it’s going to be such a long time, but the average is less than three minutes,” she said in an interview.

The discussion at the Monday, April 7, meeting centered around traffic and child safety with all commissioners agreeing the site may create problems in the future.

Commissioner Kay Hendrickson said she was worried about little people running through the parking lot.

“It adds to parents’ stress,” she said. “What are the little kids going to do?”

But City Planner Eric Searles said drivers frequenting those types of facilities are more careful.

“People are more cautious in this type of environment,” he said. “They know there are children.”

The commission recommended coming back with a pedestrian safety plan, parking spaces needs analysis and more drop off and pick up times data before approving the project.

Woodbury is home to numerous preschool and kindergarten schools. The most recent U.S. Census Bureau data from the American Community Survey released in 2012 state that 8.6 percent of the population is enrolled in nursery school and about 5 percent attend kindergarten.

Goddard School officials chose the site for visibility from Radio Drive and proximity to future clients.

The school can accommodate up to 160 students and staff in four pre-kindergarten and five day care classrooms.

Goddard requires an on-site owner in addition to any other partners.

Joens will co-own the school with her brother-in-law Jon Joens and the onsite operator Darrin Kuhnke, who combined have more than 40 years early childhood education experience.

Students can start as early as 6 weeks old and go up to school age.

Joens said there is a mix of teacher-directed and independent learning at Goddard school, but what sets it apart is the onsite operator and teacher-to-child ratio.

“Oftentimes ratios are lower than what the state mandates,” she said. “We have quality assurance inspections two times a year where they’re here at least two days.”

Woodbury Planning Commission will review an updated Goddard School application in May. The project will then go before the City Council for final approval.

If approved, the school hopes to break ground this spring and open by the end of the year.

Riham Feshir
Riham Feshir is a reporter and photographer for the Woodbury Bulletin. Her coverage includes Woodbury City Hall, Washington County Board of Commissioners and business news.  Follow Riham on Twitter @RihamFeshir for the latest updates.