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Two Colorado Springs charter schools prepare to swap buildings

May 9, 2017 Updated: May 10, 2017 at 1:42 pm
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Students from Global Village Academy exit the campus after school got out on Tuesday May 9, 2017. Global Village Academy, will downsize from the 100,000-square-foot building that it's been leasing and move to quarters in Pulpit Rock Church on Austin Bluffs Parkway Photo by Dougal Brownlie, The Gazette.

In a somewhat unusual turn of events, two charter schools in Colorado Springs are preparing to swap buildings.

"We think it's a great opportunity for both schools," said Tim Seibert, a board member and chairman of the facilities committee at Thomas MacLaren School.

A casual conversation between officials from Thomas MacLaren and Global Village Academy led to a realistic plan, Seibert said.

"They said, 'Huh, we should explore this,' and it was a quick process to go from an idea to under-contract-to-close," he said. "We're all very optimistic."

The property that Global Village Academy leases at 1702 N. Murray Blvd. was not up for sale, and Global Village Academy wasn't looking to move. But Thomas MacLaren School was, and now it's happening.

"I told my staff a month ago, and they were so excited," said Alicia Welch, principal of Global Village Academy. "Parents also seem to think it's a good thing for the school."

Both schools are authorized to operate by the Colorado Charter School Institute. Their charters call for them to be within Colorado Springs School District 11 boundaries, but they are not part of the school district.

Charter schools are tuition-free and have fewer restrictions than traditional public schools on governance, operations, finance and curriculum.

Thomas MacLaren School has been renting classroom space at Pulpit Rock Church in Cragmor since it opened in 2009. But it's too small for the fast-growing school, Seibert said.

Consequently, the school has been looking for a new location for years. Two contracts fell through, one on the old county health building on South Union Boulevard and the other on a former manufacturing plant on Garden of the Gods Road.

"We've considered contracts on countless other buildings, but none came to fruition," Seibert said. "This is a big relief."

Thomas MacLaren enrolls nearly 500 sixth- through 12th-grade students and has built its foundation on a classical curriculum that includes uniforms, gender-separated classes, instruction in Latin and cursive writing, no letter grades and lessons in string instruments for all.

School leaders want to expand to 580 middle and high school students and in the fall of 2018 open an elementary school for 330 kindergarten through fifth-grade students.

Thomas MacLaren is under contract to buy the 100,000-square-foot space spread through three buildings that Global Village Academy leases from an investor charter school group.

Seibert declined to give the price, saying the deal is still under negotiation. The current owner bought the property in 2013 for $6.1 million, and the 2017 market value is $3.5 million, according to the El Paso County Assessor's Office.

The closing is expected in June.

Thomas MacLaren will upgrade the heating, ventilating and air-conditioning systems, expand parking and convert an industrial arts building into an elementary school, Seibert said.

"Of all the properties we've looked at, this is the first one truly built as a school first, which allows us to move in without a lot of renovation," he said.

The site was the former Irving Middle School, which School District 11 closed in 2009 amid consolidation. The land has athletic fields and a gymnasium, amenities that Thomas MacLaren has rented from other entities, and a music wing and science labs, which the school has done without.

If all goes as planned, Global Village Academy, which focuses on immersing students in Spanish, Mandarin Chinese or German and providing cultural experiences, will pack up and move the week of June 12, Welch said.

The main benefit for Global Village Academy, one of five such schools in the state, is the cost, she said.

"We'll be saving a substantial amount of money per year," Welch said, "so we will be able to put more money toward our instructional programs. The current building lease is a large percent of our budget."

Global Village Academy opened in Colorado Springs in the fall of 2013 with 150 students. It now has 460 students in kindergarten through eighth grades.

"The community has accepted our focus of language and cultures," Welch said. "We have a diverse population of cultures and life experiences, with kids from all over the world."

The school offers an International Day or program monthly and teaches global literacy. Students learn and converse in the language they are studying.

Welch said the layout of the space at Pulpit Rock Church at 303 Austin Bluffs Parkway will fit the school well and allow for separating younger students from older ones.

A playground will be built, along with an athletic field and cosmetic updates, such as new flooring, she said.

The school will add a central bus route to its existing north and south routes. Welch said about 40 percent of students ride the bus, which should bump to 65 percent.

"It's not convenient for everybody, but it's a good central location off Interstate 25," Welch said. "It's a good opportunity for us to be able to purchase more materials and resources and spend more money on program delivery and training to help grow our teachers."

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