Constructing and financing a building are among the most challenging parts of starting up a new charter school in Idaho, but the Future Public School in Garden City hopes to close on its financing agreement by November 1 so it can be ready to open for the 2018-2019 school year.
“We’ve got the permits lined up, the contractor waiting on call, so that we can break ground pretty much immediately, and be completed by the end of July so they can be prepared for a late August start date,” said Jennifer Barbeau, finance and operations manager of Bluum in Boise.
Bluum is a nonprofit organization funded by the J.A. and Kathryn Albertson Family Foundation and other grants that assists the foundation in helping form charter schools in Idaho, said CEO Terry Ryan. Bluum helps with “things like determining what individuals and organizations are most likely to be successful if they’re given grant support,” he said.
The building itself is slated to comprise 39,000 square feet in a three-story facility with a project cost of approximately $8.5 million, including the furniture, Barbeau said. The contractor is RADIX Construction Inc. out of Nampa, while the architect is erstad ARCHITECTS, located in Boise. The school is scheduled to launch with free full-day kindergarten through fourth grade with 320 students, then add a new grade each year until the sixth year, when it will be built out with eight grades and 576 students.
In fact, while the third floor of the building will be constructed now, it won’t be occupied or furnished for several years,
said Brad Petersen, cofounder of Future Public School. “We’re not furnishing the eighth-grade classroom when we don’t have an eighth grade,” he said. “But it makes more financial sense to build the complete building than building for K-4 and then adding on down the road.”
Project manager and partner in the project is Building Hope, a Washington, D.C. nonprofit that helps support the growth of high-quality charter schools through viable facilities, she said. Other Idaho schools the organization has helped with include Sage International School in Boise, Connor Academy Public Charter School in Pocatello, Vision Charter School in Caldwell, and Alturas International Academy in Idaho Falls, Ryan said.
Building charter schools in Idaho can be difficult. While charter schools in Idaho receive the same per-pupil state and federal funding that traditional public schools do, they are not allowed to hold the local bond or levy elections that traditional school districts can, Ryan said. Providing facilities has been a stumbling block for a number of Idaho charter schools.
Consequently, charter schools look for ways to save money on construction. For example, Future Public School is slated to be built at the corner of 43rd and Adams street to take advantage of the facilities at the Boys & Girls Club Moseley Club next door, such as its gymnasium and cafeteria, as well as its programs. “We’re utilizing their cafeteria and gym during the day,” Peterson said. “After school, the club can expand their footprint and impact by serving students within the school building.”
Because of sharing facilities with the Boys and Girls Club, as well as the nearby Garden City parks, the school can be built on just a one-acre parcel of land. That’s also why the school is three stories: “It’s cheaper to grow up than grow out,” Ryan said.
Funding for the school is not completely nailed down but is close, Barbeau said. “We have a senior lender, we do have final terms, all the parties are in agreement, but we don’t have signatures, so the amounts are confidential,” she said. The senior lender will provide approximately $6.7 million, while Building Hope will provide $1.8 million subordinated debt, a low-interest loan to cover the school’s required 20 to 35 percent down payment. Paying the loan back will all come out of the state and federal general operations funding the school receives. “It’s all part of the juggling act that charter schools have,” she said.
Due to its location, the school has an urban feel, with the front located close to the streets and with parking along the sides. “It incorporates into the changes and new development of the community,” Barbeau said.
The interior will also look different from that of a traditional school, said cofounder Amanda Cox. For example, instead of hallways, there will be nooks for student collaboration. Learning spaces will also be large, 1,100-1,200 square feet, to accommodate greater flexibility for teachers to set up small groups.
“Even within the larger learning space, there’s a lot of opportunity for kids to find a solo nook of their own to work in,” she said. Flexibility even extends to the furniture, such as tables on wheels that can be easily rearranged, she said.
This story was updated at 1 pm on Sept. 11, 2017 to correct Bluum’s expectation of enrollment numbers and grades.