An elite group of private K-12 schools has its eye on one of Wellington’s most-coveted pieces of real estate.
North London Collegiate School is proposing its first U.S. campus here in Wellington, on the K-Park property at the southwest corner of State Road 7 and Stribling Way.
And Wellington’s council is open to the idea.
The council last night directed staff to continue conversations with representatives from North London Collegiate School, who propose building their campus on the western side of K-Park. The school is asking for a lease on about 35 acres of the 66-acre property, on land that is already zoned for community facilities, which would allow a school campus.
That would leave the other half of K-Park, which sits just north of Life.Church Wellington, for potential future development.
What is North London Collegiate School?
North London Collegiate School was founded in London in 1850, and is one of the top institutions in the world offering the challenging International Baccalaureate education program, said Luis Garcia de Brigard, a representative for Appian Education Ventures.
“It is a school that is recognized for its unparalleled educational performance,” Garcia said.
The school has expanded over the past decade, opening campuses in South Korea in 2011, Dubai in 2017, Singapore in 2020 and Vietnam last year.
North London Collegiate School has the No. 1 IB school in London, the No. 1 IB school in South Korea and the No. 1 IB school in Dubai, Garcia said.
The Dubai school, which is one of the most competitive private school markets in the world, is at capacity and beginning a third phase of expansion, he said.
The architect on the project would be Arquitectonica/H3, a firm based in South Florida with a long list of civic and commercial projects under its belt, including Brickell City Centre in Miami and the Miami Children’s Museum, plus more than 40 educational design and development projects.
Since the COVID-19 pandemic, more people are moving to Palm Beach County, with many of those coming from affluent areas of the Northeast, data show.
Past reports indicate many of those residents want private school options, but many Palm Beach County private schools are at capacity.
North London Collegiate School has a site under contract in Delray Beach, but the Wellington site is more appealing because there is room for a boarding school, Garcia said.
The possibility of Wellington leasing the land to the school also appeals to the team, he said.
“We cannot and have never been able to compete against any commercial property,” he said. “A school is a school and even if it is a premium school, our hope is that we can be able to enter into a long-term ground lease.”
The entire school will require a $100 million investment from NLCS, Garcia said.
The school would serve 1,500 to 1,700 students, with an average annual tuition of about $40,000. There would be about 250 teachers at full capacity, Garcia said. Those teachers would be recruited from international schools, the local market and elsewhere in the U.S., he said.
In admitting students, the school looks first and foremost at the family and making sure they are the right fit for NLCS, Garcia said.
The school’s “secret sauce” is “being able to have the right community of families that are in sync with the school and are going to work collaboratively with the school for the success of their children,” Garcia said.
The U.S. school will offer “a significant program for financial aid and scholarships,” he added.
Right now, K-Park is leased to an organic farm and has been since 2010.
Over the years, many uses have been pitched for the site.
Wellington bought the property in 2003 for $8.5 million from the Kahlert family, the K in K-Park. Originally, officials sought to build a park. When that fell through, an assisted-living facility was pitched for 5 of the 66 acres — until the developer backed out.
A Palm Beach State College campus almost became a reality, before the college ultimately decided to build in Loxahatchee Groves along Southern Boulevard.
In 2015, Wellington had town hall meetings to get input from residents and stakeholders on what they would like to see developed at K-Park. While there was little consensus, residents generally said they wanted a community use incorporated into the plans.
“In those town halls, it was almost 0% said they liked the idea of, yeah, let’s put some more concrete jungle there on K-Park,” said Jim Mantrozos, a Wellington resident who spoke in opposition to the school’s pitch at Tuesday night’s meeting. “Eight years later, nothing’s ever been done on that as follow up to what people said in those town halls.”
Council shows support
Councilman Michael Drahos mentioned the Palm Beach State College proposal in his comments supporting further discussion with North London Collegiate School.
“We did town hall this thing, and we got input from the public, but nobody heard this proposal,” he said, adding that at one point Palm Beach State College was planned there, and “now we’re talking to potentially one of the best IB programs in the world.”
Garcia said there could be many benefits to having a North London Collegiate School campus in Wellington.
First: direct benefits, with the ability for the community to use the school’s facilities, participate in summer programming and develop partnerships between NLCS and local public schools, he said.
Second: indirect benefits. There are well-documented effects of having a school in a community, with housing prices rising in the area of the school and families moving to Wellington because they feel the school is the right fit for their children, Garcia said.
“There is a trickle-down effect to bringing a school of an elite status like this to Wellington, because people are going to want to come and move here and be next to this school, and it’s going to elevate the prestige of what we offer in this community,” Drahos said.
Vice Mayor Michael Napoleone said he never would have thought to put a school on part of K-Park.
“I would like to at least keep talking, because this is a rare and potentially really great opportunity for Wellington if it makes sense for the community and for us,” he said.
Mayor Anne Gerwig said she hadn’t previously heard about shared use of facilities in one-on-one presentations the project’s planners made with the council members. “We’re back to, this is property the village owns that our residents perceive as some benefit for them, so I need to see that as part of this plan,” Gerwig said.
Councilwoman Tanya Siskind said she was excited about the proposal. “It wasn’t something that I think that I ever pictured being on K-Park, but it does only take a part of it, not the entirety of it, and I definitely want to authorize the village to continue the discussion at least. It can’t hurt,” she said.
What happens next?
Wellington’s staff will talk with Garcia’s team about a possible lease on the western 35 acres of K-Park. It’s unclear when that could return to the council for approval, but Garcia said his team hopes to move quickly.