A drive on Hyde Road suggests little change on the conversion of the former Clarklake Community Church to a Montessori Pre-School.  Not so.  It turns out a lot has happened since Brad and Diane Smith purchased the building in the spring.  Modifying the interior goes forward, but a large focus is on ensuring the safety of the kids, their parents, and all who are in the area.

One issue was simple, at least it seemed on the surface.  How can parents drop off kids safely, their cars not impede the flow of traffic or cause problems for neighbors, and also meet governmental approval?  After several iterations, an engineering firm developed a plan that accommodates those concerns.  The Smith’s will invest a considerable amount to reroute the section of North Street, presently between the building and parking lot, to around the northern edge of the parking lot.  That former section of North Street then becomes part of the parking lot.  In the rendering below, you can see how this plays out.

An earlier option was explored.  A school in Jackson had a similar situation, and closes off the road during certain hours.  Doing that here would have interrupted traffic and been a potential inconvenience for some.  This plan avoids that.  People can drive through to their destination at any time.

During this process, neighbors suggested a few minor modifications.  They voiced concern about boat trailers parked in the lot.  Some noticed those towing and parking boat trailers in the lot weren’t always expert when backing up.  The Smith’s say the parking lot will be fenced and will be for the use of parents and staff.  It will be closed and secured during hours that the school is not operating.  The Smith’s indicate “this change was well received.”

Moving the road requires the approval of the Jackson County Department of Transportation and Columbia Township.  Brad, an attorney, explains State law also requires the courts to sign-off when revising a plat.  All property owners and the Township will receive notice of the legal proceeding in Jackson County Circuit Court.  Brad notes “from the conversations with neighbors, the Township, and JCDOT, we expect they will be supportive.”

When Clark Lakers learned of the Montessori plan, many commented that it was a good use of the property.   Some said “if not a church, a Montessori pre-school could be favorable to the lake’s future.”

Brad and Diane Smith

The Montessori concept is not new to Diane Smith.  She currently operates the Countryside Montessori School, and the location here will become the Clark Lake Campus, licensed as a daycare center.  During the school year, it will serve up to 100 kids, 33 months to 6 years, including kindergarten age; in the summer, ages 3 to 8 with hours 7:30 am to 4:30 pm.  Diane says the Montessori philosophy emphasizes hands-on experience in the classroom and playground.  The curriculum is designed to lead children to “independence and confidence.”  Outdoor activity and learning is important, Diane adds.  The outdoor playground will be within the fenced area. It will be “natural with no commercial swings or climbers…expect to see wood, sand, rocks, logs, and even a sledding hill in the winter.”

Will kids engage with the natural wonder of Clark Lake?  Diane indicates the lake location will serve to enrich the science program.  Kids will collect algae and rocks, but will not be swimming or boating.

Working through issues with governmental agencies continues, and those take time.  The Smith’s hope to open the Clark Lake Campus by fall of 2024.

Diane introduced the concept to the Columbia Township board in March 2023.  Here are her comments.