Eastern Wake News

Charter school not expected to open in Knightdale

Developers of the new Cardinal Charter Academy say they no longer expect to open their school inside town limits after their request to use a location on Poole Road was turned down.

The Knightdale Town Council unanimously voted in December to reject a request to rezone the 13-acre site amid concerns about how locating the school there would impact traffic and nearby property owners. Developers say the Poole Road site was the second one that town officials had not liked so they’re reluctant to keep looking in Knightdale.

“We’re optimistic we’ll find another location, but not in the city of Knightdale,” said Scott Woodrey, president of Red Apple Development, which is the developer for Cardinal Charter Academy of Knightdale.

Town officials say they still want Cardinal to open in Knightdale, but just at a different location.

“We’d love to have a charter school in Knightdale,” said Mayor Pro Tem Mike Chalk. “There are a lot of places in Knightdale where they could go where it would not have as much of an impact.”

Cardinal Charter is a taxpayer funded school that’s exempt from some of the regulations that traditional public schools must follow. The charter school, which will be managed by Florida-based Charter Schools USA, is separate from the Wake County school system.

The State Board of Education had voted in June 2015 to give permission for Cardinal to open in August 2016. The school hopes to eventually serve 1,146 students from kindergarten through 12th grade.

According to Cardinal’s local governing board, they had reached an agreement in April 2015 with a property owner to build the school at Legacy Oaks. But the board says they abandoned the location after then-Mayor Russell Killen told them the site would not be supported.

Cardinal then turned its attention to the property on Poole Road with plans to build a two-story, 68,000-square-foot school on the site.

During public hearings in December, the Town Council heard from neighboring property owners that roadway improvements being required by the N.C. Department of Transportation would cause problems.

To use the site, DOT required the construction of a turn lane on westbound Poole Road for traffic turning right onto Hodge Road. Building that turn lane would consume a portion of the parking lot at Paul Lee’s store, according to Robert Lee, who operates the family business.

“History shows that the squeaky wheel gets the oil,” Woodrey said. “Typically you get a bigger turnout from the people who oppose something than support it.

“A handful of people can turn out and influence the outcome for a town or city council that doesn’t want to deal with bad press.”

Council members voiced additional concerns about the location of the school property, which is tucked in among residential subdivisions and would empty out onto Poole Road. That stretch of road is currently a two-lane road, but developers would have been required to build turn lanes to ease traffic flow for cars entering the school.

“It was just too much traffic on Poole Road at that time of day when they’re going to school,” Chalk said.

The town’s rejection of the rezoning request means Cardinal is now asking for state permission to delay opening until August 2017 while it looks for a new location. The state Office of Charter Schools is supporting the request for the delay.

Chalk and other town officials say they’re willing to help Cardinal find a new location in Knightdale.

“Knightdale is growing like crazy,” Chalk said. “We need all the educational opportunities we can get.”

But Woodrey said that after having unsuccessfully made “two honest efforts” to find a site in Knightdale that they don’t think the town is interested in the school being there. Woodrey said he’ll look in the same geographic area but doesn’t expect the new site to be in Knightdale.

“Our attitude will be that we’ll move on to a community that’s more willing to embrace us,” Woodrey said.

Staff writer Johnny Whitfield contributed to this report.

T. Keung Hui: 919-829-4534, @nckhui