Cornelius resident Carolyn Walker, 52, hopes her proposed nonprofit learning center for kids ages 3-6 will start offering programs as early as June.
Called Woodlands Discovery, the six-acre site on Mayes Road in Davidson will be the first of its kind in the area. It will offer play-based activities in an outdoor setting through nature-oriented preschool programs, transitional kindergarten and kindergarten classes, as well as home school activities.
The town of Davidson's planning department earlier this month hosted a public design session for the project that included a site walk-through. Walker needs the board's approval to rezone the land and renovate the house on the property to meet Americans with Disability Act requirements.
The land's current zoning is rural planning area, which is typically an unincorporated, non-commercial development area that can be sub-divided into a residential development and incorporated into the town. If the project is approved, the zoning will be rural planning area conditional, which will allow for non-conforming improvements, like multiple accessory structures and signage, not normally permitted in the current zoning. Other property changes over time could include the addition of trails, an amphitheater, gardens and a playground, for which zoning changes will be considered on a case-by-case basis.
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Davidson town planner Lauren Blackburn said the board will give its recommendation on Walker's proposal at an April 13 meeting.
The board may look favorably upon the project because it plans to preserve a significant amount of open space, she said, but increased traffic on Mayes Road and public safety response times were a couple concerns brought up by area residents who attended the planning session.
"I think it's a really intriguing idea," Blackburn said. "And as a mother of preschooler, I think other parents would find it really interesting."
Davidson resident Pam Dykstra, who serves on the Tree Advisory Board of Davidson and the Davidson Lands Conservancy, attended the session. She is in favor of the program because it will expose children to nature while preserving the natural assets of the land.
"If we're saving the natural landscape, that benefits people in a number of ways," she said. "And the possibility that this would be appreciated by children is an additional benefit."
Walker, who has 12 years experience in early childhood development education, will serve as the nonprofit's director. In the center's brochure, she writes that studies show that children are smarter, more cooperative, happier and healthier when they spend frequent, unstructured play time outdoors.
"If I'm going to be in early childhood development, I need to do it the way I believe is best," she said. "By offering outdoor experiences, in addition to regular preschool activities, children are able to experience and integrate knowledge better by using all of their senses."
All programs will incorporate nature experiences, like gardening and nature walks, as a significant part of the curriculum. Programs will run from 8:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. and costs will range from $1,500 for a three-day-a-week program, to $3,500 for a five-day-a-week program. Programs last for nine months and parents can pay the total cost in monthly installments, about $165 to $380 per month. Week-long summer camps for ages 3-10 also will be available in the morning and afternoon. Walker is hoping to get at least 40 children signed up for the coming year.
Walker is fairly confident the project will get approval, but if things don't work out, she'll look for additional funding and/or another site.
"There are always risks involved and things could happen," she said. "But I'm 99.5 percent sure that it'll be up and running by June."