Identifying and negotiating for charter school facilities that already exist and are part of a business or government entity is both cost-effective and beneficial to all parties.
Locating a charter school next to or within a museum, nursery school, day care center, business park, manufacturing facility, senior citizen center, public park, or government building allows students to interact with and learn from the host facility.
Co-locating with another organization can have enormous benefits for schools, students, their families, and the broader community. There are many examples of this partnering throughout the country, and some new ideas also are appearing on the horizon.
In Amite, Louisiana, the Northwood Preparatory High School works with at-risk students who are either returning to school or in jeopardy or dropping out of school. The Northwood Prep student body reflects the at-risk population of the parish in which it is located, where 77 percent of students are identified as at-risk.
Northwood officials plan to move their operations from the existing location–next to a church and in portable units–to a new school that is to be built on a larger piece of property. By obtaining a large parcel, Northwood is planning to build an adjacent facility to provide foster care for many of the students in its educational program.
Creating a campus where at-risk students can both live and attend school will create an atmosphere of learning virtually guaranteed to have a positive impact on the students’ lives.
Two years ago, Jersey City Mayor Brett Schundler opened a new shared-use facility in that community, the $8.75 million Community Education and Recreation Center.
During the day, the facility serves as the leased home of the Golden Door Charter School, which serves largely at-risk students. During non-school hours, the facility is open for recreation to all members of the Jersey City community. The school’s lease payments go to pay off the cost of the building. (See “The Face of Education Reform,” School Reform News, February 2000.)
Another major benefit of co-location is the expanded learning opportunities for students.
For example, students at the Minnesota School of Environmental Science find it easy to participate in internships in environmental science, to study animals, and to help prepare exhibits because their school shares space with the Minnesota Zoo.
When a school shares space with a higher education institution, a museum, or a zoo, students can take college courses because they are housed within or adjacent to the college.
Malls or Parks
Similarly, locating a charter school in a mall becomes a win-win situation for both the mall owners and the school. When a school is located adjacent to ongoing businesses, students often are able to participate in a variety of hands-on cooperative projects with the business owners. Examples of such projects are tracking customers, analyzing sales, comparing marketing strategies, examining how different merchants attract people into their stores, and how they service their new customers.
Of course, students, teachers, and parents also will frequent the mall and its stores because of the school’s location, and the mall ownership will receive rent from a retail space that might otherwise not be leased.
Identifying parcels of property that are government-owned may be an inexpensive way to create a charter school campus. Many publicly owned parcels can be leased from the government entity that owns the property. This will lower the cost of land, which in turn allows larger parcels to be considered. Leasing a portion of a park that may already have baseball, football, or soccer fields, a running track, or other amenities reduces costs and allows more dollars to be spent in the classroom.
Thinking creatively and looking for opportunities to share facilities can pay dividends for everyone involved.
Mark Howard has specialized in the development of commercial properties since 1980. He owns and operates M.H. Realty Associates, Inc. in Tamarac, Florida. Readers with questions on facilities and finances are encouraged to contact him directly at [email protected]. The most frequent questions about common problems will be included in future columns.