ST. PETERSBURG — In a little more than four decades, Lutheran Church of the Cross Day School has emerged from a small neighborhood preschool to a thriving institution with a waiting list for classes that now go up to eighth grade.
A few years ago, the school, which spilled across the street after bulging in the church fellowship hall and a mobile classroom, bought a small shopping center to accommodate further growth.
Now it is preparing to build a $2.5 million addition and, with the city's permission, eventually visually connect the campus — separated by Chancellor Street NE — with paver crosswalks and landscape islands anchored in the road.
Construction of the new multipurpose facility with gymnasium and classrooms is targeted for January. A $1.5 million fundraising campaign was kicked off in February.
It's all happening at a time when the economy has forced some parents to rethink private schools. At LCC, though, Pastor David Swenson is able to chronicle continual growth.
"When I arrived, we were adding a grade a year and then the middle school was complete six years ago. We have 425 students now and part of the reason for that is because of the economy,'' he said.
The day school, where tuition ranges from $7,500 for elementary students to $8,500 for middle school, charges considerably less than two other well-known private schools, Swenson said.
"We do have waiting lists for next year,'' said head of school Holly Carlson, who has been at LCC for 23 years. "Sometimes you have to pinch yourself to see how far the school has come."
The Shore Acres Lutheran congregation started the school — considered an important part of its mission — in 1969. Much of the growth has taken place since the early 1990s, when the kindergarten was added. The elementary school got its start in 1993 and its new campus opened on 2 acres on the other side of Chancellor four years later. Some neighbors were concerned about the new building's proximity, so the school frosted the bottom half of windows overlooking nearby properties and changed the layout of the campus and playground, Carlson said.
The school has established a relationship with nearby Shore Acres Rehabilitation and Nursing Center, where preschoolers trick or treat and elementary students have shared cookies they made.
In 2001, the school bought the small shopping center adjacent to the elementary school. The bank was renovated into classrooms for the new middle school, which began classes in 2002. The small convenience store, B&N Market, remains open and has a lease with LCC through 2013. Swenson said the market is important to surrounding neighborhoods.
"Really it's the only place where you can go and get just a couple of items. If you need eggs, you don't have to drive all the way into town," he said. "It serves a vital purpose for the Shore Acres community.''
In coming months, the former bank will be demolished to make room for a parking lot across from the new multipurpose facility. The remaining shopping center buildings, which over the years have been occupied by such businesses as a beauty shop, hardware store, sandwich shop, pharmacy and pizza place, will be replaced with the new building.
The 16,950 square-foot facility, to be known as the Life Center, will include a portable stage, full-court gymnasium, locker rooms, concession and kitchen. School officials say it will be the hub of extracurricular activities, hosting sports banquets, shows, basketball and volleyball games and community events. The environmentally friendly building will have six classrooms for LCC's growing student body.
Most students live nearby, Carlson said. Board member Fiona Potter, who moved from Canada almost six years ago and now lives in Venetian Isles, heard about LCC from her real estate agent. "It was funny. She was showing us homes in the area and she said, 'You absolutely have to send your children to LCC,' '' she said.
Her husband, David, came to the same conclusion after a visit to the school at 4400 Chancellor St. NE. The Potters enrolled their children, Harry — no, not that Harry — and Abigail, soon after.
Potter, a professional speaker, began volunteering at the school and launched a public speaking program. The school has been competing successfully for the past four years, winning first in city and county competitions and a few weeks ago a recent alumnus finished second in a state competition. Potter, who also started a popular public speaking club, Rock the Talk, at LLC, has a personal vision for the Life Center.
"If we can build this Life Center, we can open up the competition to other schools in the state, so that we, as a school, can host them at our venue,'' she said.
The school, which will send 12 graduates to the International Baccalaureate program at St. Petersburg High School next year, has 12 preschool classrooms, three kindergarten classes and two each in first through eighth grade.
The new classrooms would mean additional space to expand the middle school, officials say. As for a high school, there are no plans. Yet.
Waveney Ann Moore can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 892-2283.