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Colorado Springs charter school is eyeing part of old Intel complex for permanent home

August 17, 2016 Updated: August 22, 2016 at 4:08 pm
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Thomas MacLaren Charter School is investigating the feasibility of turning this building at 1615 W. Garden of the Gods Road into a K-12 charter school.

Part of a former chip manufacturing complex on West Garden of the Gods Road could be reincarnated as a charter school.

Thomas MacLaren School, which opened in 2009 under the state's Charter School Institute umbrella, has been searching for a permanent location for years and is in the "due diligence" phase of inspecting the property.

The school applied on Friday for a conditional use permit with the city's Land Use Review Division, to turn a building at 1615 W. Garden of the Gods Road into a K-12 charter school.

"It's part of the steps we need to take for a further look," said Katherine Brophy, the school's director of marketing. "We're serious enough to keep moving forward until something says we can't."

Intel Corp. had operated a 1,000-employee semiconductor plant for nearly eight years on the property before closing the massive campus in 2007.

The site has been replatted into multiple lots. Next door to the building Thomas MacLaren is considering is El Paso County's Citizens Service Center, which includes the Department of Human Services, the Pikes Peak Workforce Center, the election department, a cafe and a Division of Motor Vehicles office.

Thomas MacLaren opened seven years ago with 77 students in sixth through ninth grades and then added grades 10, 11 and 12. The school year started last week with 454 students enrolled, Brophy said.

Named for a late 1800s Colorado Springs architect who built churches, schools and libraries, Thomas MacLaren leases space from Pulpit Rock Church, east on Garden of the Gods Road, but is outgrowing it. The school wants to add grades K-5, according to plans.

Finding a new building has been harder than solving a Calculus III problem.

The school wants to remain in the boundaries of Colorado Springs School District 11, and members of a school facilities committee have looked at old warehouses, industrial spaces, former retail centers and vacant land, Tim Seibert, committee chairman and a school founder, told The Gazette in January.

The school had a preliminary contract last year to buy the former El Paso County Health Department building across from Memorial Park on Union Boulevard.

That fell through after school leaders learned the building had asbestos and other issues that would have made it too costly to renovate.

Brophy said the old Intel property looks promising. A Los Angeles company that specializes in redeveloping corporate real estate bought the defunct complex in 2009 and put it on the market for sale or lease.

The parcel Thomas MacLaren is eyeing is listed for $10 million, although Brophy said the sales price is part of the negotiations and therefore, she could not discuss the amount.

The school is under contract to buy the building, and if the deal goes through, would renovate the interior, according to its application with the city.

"It's a formidable amount of money - we need to see if we can afford it," Brophy said.

The school is working with a national investment banking firm that specializes in helping charter schools obtain financing for buildings, she said.

Thomas MacLaren follows a classical liberal arts model that teaches the humanities, sciences and arts using a sequenced, seven-year curriculum. School uniforms, single-sex classes for core subjects, Latin lessons and orchestra instruction for all students are part of the education, which school leaders say appeals to many parents.

Top performance on testing has helped boost demand.

In the spring ACT testing cycle, Thomas MacLaren juniors attained the highest composite score ever in the state, at 29.8.

The class of 2017 is the second class to complete the curriculum cycle from sixth to 12th grade, which school officials attribute to the students' high performance.

Also, 10th-graders scored third highest in the state in overall mean scores on the PSAT exam administered in the spring.

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