Sandpoint Waldorf dream of new campus coming true
An architect's rendition of what Sandpoint Waldorf's School's new campus on North Kootenai Road may look like. Bonner County approved a conditional use permit for the school to move forward with its plan in late December.
Sandpoint Waldorf students laugh and play in the snow during a recent recess.
Staff Writer | January 13, 2023 1:00 AM
SANDPOINT — A dream more than seven years in the making is finally coming true for Sandpoint Waldorf.
With the approval of a conditional use permit for a new school campus on North Kootenai Road, the school is in full swing of planning exactly what the school will look like once it moves to the 25-acre site.
The plan is to build the early childhood center first, with three kindergarten classrooms and two pre-kindergarten. Once a facility is built for the older grades, the rest of the school would follow suit.
The goal is to break ground in the spring with construction set for completion and the younger students moved in by fall 2024. If everything goes according to plan, everyone would be in place at the new school by 2025, Julie McCallan, the school's pedagogical director, said.
"It's always been a dream of the school to have more property, and to really have more opportunities for gardening and outdoor experiences," McCallan said. "This is really a dream come true because it's 25 acres of an open palette."
On its current site, tucked in among offices and the YMCA, Sandpoint Waldorf sits on just over three-quarters of an acre with limited parking and even less space for a garden and playground. In fact, the school leases what space it does use for a pocket garden and a playground from the YMCA.
"We don't have any room to grow here," McCallan said.
A lack of space limits some programs and prevents the school from launching others. Instruments are stored in hallways and music lessons take place when another class is outside. Plays are programs either take place outside when the weather is nice or in space leased somewhere else.
Sandpoint Waldorf is still working to finalize exactly what the different structures on the site will look like, but hope the entire project will cost no more than $5-6 million, said Kirsten Hollan, the school's director of Business, Operations & Development.
Located on North Kootenai Road off of Highway 200, the site encompasses four parcels, including one with an existing house and outbuildings. All four parcels are zoned Suburban, which allows schools as a conditional use.
Among the requirements for the conditional use permit are having an adequate water supply, effluent disposal, and fire suppression.
The Sandpoint Waldorf site falls within the Oden Water and Northside Fire districts. A septic system proposed for the site and based on historical data over the past 20 years would be more than adequate to handle the 2,500 gallons per day allowed. Jeremy Grimm of Whiskey Rock Planning said.
If the school is able to provide the information that shows that lower, historical usage at the time it submits its building location permit, Tyler said a conditional use permit for that would not be required. If they cannot, then the school would need to modify its CUP to meet the standard for effluent disposal for a public use facility, he said.
Grimm told Planning staff the school's proposal exceeds parking requirements and its proposed sign is in line with BCRC guidelines. He assured Rucker that Sandpoint Waldorf officials have no problem with meeting required lighting standards and would have that to county officials by the time a building location permit is submitted.
Where county code requires 75 parking spaces based on the number of students and staff, Sandpoint Waldorf's plan incorporates 84 spots.
In addition, he said erosion control measures required by the county have already been incorporated into the school's plans for the site.
"There's been a fair amount of detailed engineering [for the site]," Grimm said, noting that all applicable rules and regulations were followed and incorporated into the overall design plan.
The school currently sits on just over three-fourths of an acre in the middle of Sandpoint. The area is "fairly congested," which limits some of the programs the school wants to incorporate into its curriculum, but has given its staff experience in orchestrating student drop-off and pick-up, Grimm said.
"They'll get out there with flags and they make sure traffic's moving right along and people aren't loitering," he said of how the staff works as a unit to ensure the process is quick, smooth, and minimizes disruption.
While Sandpoint Waldorf will impact the neighborhood by its presence, Grimm said it is important for the school and its families to be a good neighbor. It also is less intrusive than many other potential uses such as single-family homes, which could add more than 100 homes under existing code for suburban zones.
Grimm said the school was amenable to the staff recommendations and conditions.
"This is a realistic proposal with the understanding of the intensity of the use," Grimm said. "The board and the staff are very experienced and responsible at running a school; they've been doing it for well over 20 years. This proposal is a lower impact versus other development options if somebody were to purchase this land. It's consistent with the comprehensive plan. The school has a history of being a good neighbor and they're incredibly responsive to concerns and feedback from their neighbors."
Bonner County Road and Bridge called on the county to require the school to upgrade the approach to the property with a commercial encroachment permit and to include space on the property for parents to drop off and pick up students. Department officials also said consideration needed to be given to students who would walk or bike to school since the road sits just about a mile outside Kootenai city limits.
"Sidewalks or bike paths may be warranted to avoid the future necessary expenditure of public funds to upgrade the road … when safety issues become apparent," Bonner County Road and Bridge staff engineer Matt Mulder wrote in a project review.
Like Road and Bridge, Kootenai officials said they supported Sandpoint Waldorf's plans but noted they would have an effect on some of the city's streets. To minimize that impact, they called for lower speed limits on North Kootenai Road around the school and require a walking/biking path to allow safe travel without students having to be on the road.
Partnering with a group such as the Safe Routes to School program might be a way to work toward a pathway, Grimm told the group. The program is something that other schools, including in Bonner County, have sought out to help create such pathways.
Sandpoint Waldorf staff and supporters told Rucker they believe it's possible to both pursue their dream — and partner with others to be a good neighbor.
Sandpoint Waldorf moved to its current location in 1998 and has been a part of the community since the early 1990s. While there was plenty of space in those early days, that's no longer the case with classrooms and learning areas tucked into every conceivable nook and cranny — even former offices, McCallan said.
Having additional space to create a campus that allows for all programs would be huge, parents, staff, and supporters told the hearing examiner. With families moving to the area, in part because of the school, they said there is a growing need for a site that allows the school to grow and better meet the needs of its students.
In approving the CUP, hearing examiner Jacqueline Rucker found the school's proposal was in line with both the county Comprehensive Plan and Bonner County Revised Code.
As part of the permit, the approved site plan and erosion control measures must be adhered to, county setbacks met, and work must begin within two years unless an extension is approved.
Until they bought the site on North Kootenai Road last January, McCallan said a concerted more-than-seven-year search never found just the right spot or things didn't work out for one reason or another. Now with 25 acres at their disposal, they have room to grow — and room to dream.
"That's why we have 25 acres is because we want the land and want the possibility to grow," Hollan said. "We don't want to go build a structure that's going to cap us in three years. We want to be able to grow … because this is our forever home."