Monday, July 19, 2004

Odd spaces become schools


Charters rent what's available, including former stores and go-kart tracks

The Associated Press

COLUMBUS - A winding asphalt track sits unused at the former go-kart raceway now known as International Academy of Columbus.

Like other charter schools, the nearly 3-year-old academy has made novel use of an unlikely structure.

"This is the most difficult thing facing anyone who wants to start a community school," said Mouhamed Tarazi, an International Academy board member. "If you are looking for an office, you can find a lot of them. But to find a place suitable for a school ... it's a nightmare."

While public school districts can issue bonds or seek local levies to fund new buildings, the privately run but publicly funded charter schools rely mostly on grants.

With the cost of a new building out of reach for many fledgling charter schools, renting an existing space is the best option - if they can find a suitable building.

"If you don't have a place to have school, it doesn't matter what kind of program you have or how well you can manage your finances," said James Cowardin, chief executive officer of Community Education Services, the company that oversees Millennium Community School and Great Western Academy.

Unusual spaces are unappealing to some parents, but most aren't concerned with a school's aesthetics, charter school leaders said.

"A lot of parents are coming from (schools) they're not particularly happy with anyway. So when parents pick a school, the building has little do with it," said Clint Satow, vice president for policy, research and analysis at the Ohio Charter School Association.

Mosaica Education charter school's location inside a building that once housed a J.C. Penney in the northern part of the city appealed to Jennifer Hoffman, who's sending two of her children there.

"I thought it was a really interesting location for it," Hoffman said.

School operators who hope to open in the fall said it has been difficult to find a space in an area without a surplus of empty school buildings.

Cheryl Thomas Parchia, who plans to open an elementary and a middle school this fall, spent one year searching and still is trying to finalize building plans.

"You don't want to blow your (operating) budget because you see a glamorous facility," she said.




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