TCGIS Facilities Committee Update
From Mark Ireland, Chair of the TCGIS Facilities Committee,
on behalf of the committee
This past spring the facilities committee invited the parent community to participate in a survey and attend an open forum to learn where we are in the process of finding our long-term home for the school as our lease in our current location ends at the end of June 2013.
For more than three years, the Facilities Committee has been evaluating our current location and other locations. We are entering the final stages in multiple, simultaneous negotiations, trying to get the best deal possible for our school. "Best deal" means that the lease is affordable; the facility itself is located nearby our current location; and fits the size/needs of our program as well as our size/needs when we reach our full configuration.
Our goal is to present the board with a recommendation as well as alternatives in the very near future. In the meantime, below you will find answers to questions that you might have. I've also attached the presentation from the spring as well as the list of properties we've considered so you can see the breadth of the search:
Why don't we just stay right where we are?
There are three main issues related to our current location that make it extremely risky.
1. We do not control the play space in front of our school. The "wood chip" park is actually "Dickerman Park" and it is owned by the City of Saint Paul. We have had multiple meetings with the City of Saint Paul, and it is likely that they will redevelop the park in a manner that is not compatible with our use and not safe for our kids to play. It is unclear when the construction would start, but it is likely to coincide with the completion of the light rail construction.
2. The YMCA (which we currently use for gym) has confirmed they are moving. When they move, we would no longer have easy access to a gym facility.
3. Can our current space support our program at its full configuration? We are a growing school and ultimately we could have as many as 550 students. If we were to continue leasing at our current location, there is a question if we could negotiate the amount of improvements we would need to support our ultimate program size at a quality that we satisfy us over the long term. For these reasons, the Facilities Committee has been actively pursuing other options.
Where have you looked?
Although we've looked nearly everywhere, parents have told us quite clearly to stay close to our current location. There are three general categories of places we look: (1) closed public school buildings, (2) office/warehouse spaces, and (3) closed Catholic school buildings.
1. Closed public school buildings
There simply aren't very many of them available. We actively pursued engaging Minneapolis on the Howe school in the Longfellow neighborhood, but those talks were not successful. Both Saint Paul and Minneapolis have also seen an increase in student population, which means that they are not interested in losing control of any school that would be suitable for us. In fact, they are planning to reopen many closed facilities.
2. Office/warehouse spaces
We have looked at multiple office/warehouse spaces, but most are not large enough for our needs, they are not close to our current location, and/or they lack any green space and/or play space. There are also environmental and safety concerns of locating a school with young children in an industrial area. For example, we have considered the Jenks building but based on the parent survey results, the facility and its location weren't an option.
3. Closed Catholic Schools
With Catholic schools, the issue is often the quality of the school building. Closed Catholic school buildings often have deferred maintenance issues, lack administrative and special education spaces, and green space. The school buildings also tend to be too small. Many Catholic schools were kindergarten through fifth grade, with one classroom per grade (a total of 6 to eight classrooms). We are kindergarten through eighth grade, and we are projected to need at least thirty classrooms plus specialty rooms.
When we presented the community with the three most viable options in the spring, the St. Andrews site located in the Como neighborhood and our current site were the front-runners according to the survey results. We are continuing discussions with our current landlord but given the challenges discussed above, the facilities committee has also pursued further research of the St. Andrews site. It is a former Catholic school but was also home to a French immersion school and has gone through significant renovations. We have been working with an architect as well as various other structural engineers and inspectors to do a deeper assessment of the site. It continues to be a viable option for the school.
Attached here is a list of facilities that have been considered over the course of the last two years.
When the Facilities Committee makes its recommendation to the Board will it all be settled?
No. As stated above, we have multiple, simultaneous negotiations occurring at the same time. Our goal is to have our recommendation made and our facility chosen by the end of the year, but there are factors that are not in our control. For example, another local charter school chose to purchase two sites and they both fell through because they were priced too high. The same thing could happen with our recommendations. In addition to continuing to negotiate on our current site and St. Andrews, the facilities committee is also looking into other sites that could provide a temporary (3-5 year) solution in case our first two choices do not pan out.
Once a selection has been made by the board there will be many opportunities in which the community can get involved and those will be communicated in future updates. The committee is working on finding a solution to the school's facilities needs and feels confident that the school will ultimately find a space that supports our program to the fullest extent possible. We realize that the location of the school is very important to the parent community and we want to involve everybody as much as possible. The process is moving quickly at this stage and we are excited about being able to share more information as well as opportunities for input in the weeks to come. We appreciated all the comments of support we received during the last survey and are confident that the hard work that has gone into this process over the last three years will ultimately lead to a new home for our school that we can be proud of.
I want to know more about what the committee is doing and recommending.
This is the presentation made to the community in the spring, as well as the list of facilities we've looked at over the years. If you would like further information, please give me a call or email me at [email protected].
Facilities Committee Chair