The two schools, All Nations Community School and the Journey School for the Uniquely Gifted and Talented, have both been housed in Sojourn Baptist Church at 27420 Robinson Road, Oak Ridge North, since they were established in 2019. All Nations is an internationally focused private Christian academy, and the private Journey school serves students with special needs. The specific-use permits under consideration this month were required as the Plaza District where the schools are located is not zoned for their particular use.
Council members had granted the schools initial two-year permits to operate within the city's Plaza District in June 2019 with a requirement that the schools appear before city officials several months before those permits expired this year for consideration of their possible renewals. Council members at that time had supported welcoming the schools into the city, although some concerns related to traffic and the possible effects that realignment of Robinson could have on the area were discussed.
During a specially called virtual meeting and public hearing of the council and city planning and zoning commission March 1, community members and representatives from both schools and the Sojourn church spoke in support of retaining All Nations and Journey in the city before the new permits were approved.
“I’m delighted to report that the relationship between our church and the schools has been fantastic. It’s been spectacular. ... We would be delighted to see this relationship continue," Sojourn Pastor Jess Larson said.
While the planning and zoning board had initially recommended one-year permit extensions for both schools, commission and council members eventually moved to again approve two-year extensions March 1. The shorter timeframe was first considered to provide flexibility during potential progress on the city's Robinson project over the next year, but officials opted for a two-year window instead to grant more certainty to the schools.
“I personally would like to give them two years, instead of one and have them back in a year," Council Member Tom Coale said. "I think everybody will sort of agree they’re a great asset to the city."
After hearing the recommendation of two-year permit extensions, council members unanimously voted in favor of both schools' new permits. The specific-use permits now run through June 2023, and school officials will once again be required to request new extensions several months before that deadline if they desire to continue operating in the city.