Geneva Classical Academy Seeks OK for New Home

Geneva Classical Academy, a 160-student Christian school, has asked the city for a permit to operate at 1736 New Jersey Road, formerly the campus of the once-thriving Lakeside Baptist Church.

The school, currently at 4204 Lakeland Highlands Road, focuses on training four-year-olds through 12th-graders in critical thinking skills based on Christian values, according to its website.

City commissioners will hear the request on first reading during their meeting that starts at 3 p.m. today at City Hall. Members of the public will be able to comment on the request on Nov. 19, when the commission is expected to vote on the request.

The city Planning and Zoning Commission has recommended approval of a conditional-use permit for the school with a bevy of conditions, mostly concerning traffic flow and noise control. A conditional-use permit is required for all schools that are located in residential areas.

Traffic on New Jersey Road is not expected to back up during student drop-off and pick-up times because there is ample space on the back side of the campus to accommodate waiting lines, City Manager Tony Delgado told commissioners Friday during an agenda preview.

However, the academy plans to grow to 250 students and expects to rapidly reach 175 students, a number that would require more detailed plans on traffic flow, he said.

City commissioners on Friday directed staff to ask the school to provide more detailed plans for the internal traffic flow now rather than waiting for the 175-student threshold.

A city staff report says that issues raised by neighbors during a public hearing before the Planning and Zoning Board on Sept. 18 have been addressed in special conditions for six-foot-high fencing and traffic and noise control.

Video: Planning and Zoning considers Geneva application

Planning & Zoning Board Meeting 2018 0918 from City of Lakeland on Vimeo.

Geneva Classical Academy paid $1.9 million last summer for the property, including its 71,967 square-foot, 53-year-old sanctuary building and Sunday school, according to Property Appraiser records.

Lakeside church had lost membership and no longer had the resources to maintain the large sanctuary, according to the city staff report.

Several other changes are also afoot for Geneva Classical Academy’s planned campus on New Jersey Road.

* The rapidly growing, three-year-old Grace City Church has leased the sanctuary to provide a second site for its Sunday services. Grace City, located downtown at 730 S. Florida Ave., currently has five Sunday services at the 6,800-square-foot downtown facility. Grace City purchased the Florida Avenue site on Sept. 20 from Baron Management Inc. for $1.1 million, according to county property records.

* Florida Southern College will move its lacrosse team’s practice site this spring after FSC opens its new athletic complex on Lakeland Highlands Road. The college had been leasing the athletic field from Lakeside Baptist.

All Hope Christian Academy, which had been leasing one of the Lakeside Baptist buildings for the past three years, is being displaced.

Joanna Harritt, All Hope principal, said Geneva Classical Academy is allowing her school to stay until the end of the school year.

She said she has been unable to find a suitable, affordable option in Lakeland that meets city code and regulations.

“I was forced to look outside the city but found a suitable location in Auburndale at the former site of Southern Technical College on Havendale Boulevard,” Harritt said. “Our students are from Lakeland and Polk City, and hopefully they will follow us. If not, we will be recruiting students in Auburndale.”

Geneva Classical Academy plans to use the athletic field for its football field. Geneva belongs to a 6-on-6 football league for smaller schools and hosts six home games a year on Friday or Saturday nights. Among the stipulations for the conditional use permit is one that says the school will not install permanent lighting at the field but will use temporary lights on game nights and a condition that the school will not use a public address system outdoors.

Other stipulations require 6-foot-tall privacy fences blocking the view of the athletic field, playground and parking areas from the view of neighboring houses.

Neither the headmaster of Geneva Classical Academy, Rich Cali, nor the lead pastors of Grace City Church, Andrew and Christina Gard, returned phone calls for comments.

According to its website, Geneva Classical Academy “offers a reformed, classical and Christ-centered college preparatory curriculum.”

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