New Montessori school opens in Alabaster

Avi Argo, left, and Max Ballou enjoy some chicken and fresh veggies at lunch time at River and Cape Montessori School on Sept. 8. (Reporter Photo/Keith McCoy)

Avi Argo, left, and Max Ballou enjoy some chicken and fresh veggies at lunch time at River and Cape Montessori School on Sept. 8. (Reporter Photo/Keith McCoy)

By NEAL WAGNER / Managing Editor

ALABASTER – The soft sound of relaxing music filled the rooms as children quietly worked on a variety of activities on Sept. 8, marking a new life for a long-vacant building off Industrial Road in Alabaster.

Since Aug. 30, the former Meadowlark restaurant and Cates House at 534 Industrial Road has served as the new home for the River and Cape Montessori school. For two years before moving to the new location, school owner Kelly Thomson operated the school at her house in Helena’s Dearing Downs neighborhood.

From left, Max Ballou, Avi Argo and Sloan Oveton enjoy a little time outside in shadded sand box. (Reporter Photo/Keith McCoy)

From left, Max Ballou, Avi Argo and Sloan Oveton enjoy a little time outside in shadded sand box. (Reporter Photo/Keith McCoy)

“It was hard to tell parents that we were full just three months after we opened (in Dearing Downs),” Thomson said. “We knew we wouldn’t have more spots available for several years, and that as a huge reason we decided to move here.”

Thomson’s search for a new location led her to the then-vacant property near Kingwood Church.

The property had been owned by Kingwood Church since the church purchased the property from original owners Nicholas and Raphael Cairns in 2005. For several years, the church operated the property as the Cates House special events venue.

The Cairns family opened the Meadowlark Farms restaurant in the building in 1970 after significantly adding on to the property’s original farmhouse, which was built in 1946.

Over the years, the gourmet restaurant became well-known throughout the Birmingham area, and was even visited by the Rolling Stones when the band played in Birmingham in 1992.

For nine months before opening the school, Thomson and her husband worked to complete significant renovations to the property to ensure it met city code, and would offer a safe environment for children ages 6 weeks to 6 years.

Today, the building retains its picturesque scenery while offering separate learning environments for each student age group. Through the Montessori model, students are able to engage in activities promoting life skills and building a foundation for future learning.

“We focus on a lot of practical life exercises. We try to introduce them to a lot of subjects they will use throughout their schooling,” Thomson said. “The kids are able to work in multiple areas at once, but it’s not chaotic. There is a spot for everyone and every kind of learner, which gives us the tools the meet the kids exactly where they are.”

Because the new location still offers a homelike feel, the students have had a smooth transition, Thomson said.

“When you go from a home to something of this scale, it’s a big jump,” Thomson said. “We’ve kept aspects of home in every environment, and they’ve really adjusted beautifully.”