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A Quest for Space in Aurora

June 28, 2016
Lacking suitable school building, Colorado principal must postpone new school opening
After the Aurora Public Schools Board of Education approved Sara Taylor’s application for Laurus Collegiate, a K-8 public charter school serving low-income students, she called every local landlord and church pastor with a building bigger than 10,000 square feet.

“I literally walked the streets of Aurora, knocking on doors,” she said, describing her quest to find a school building, which started months before she received her charter.

When Taylor’s charter school was approved in June 2015 for an August 2016 opening, she knew it would be a challenge to find a suitable space, but what she encountered was far worse than she imagined.

The lifelong educator — who had earned a Building Excellent Schools fellowship to help her launch her new public charter school — faced three main problems:

  1. Most available buildings were not up to code. For example, stairwells were too narrow and it would cost a $1 million, which she didn’t have, to make a school suitable for children.
  1. Other organizations were able to outbid the school on appropriate spaces. For example, a for-profit medical center and an events space were able to offer more for available buildings.
  1. There was no public transportation. If the school could find a space outside of its neighborhood, the families it was serving wouldn’t be able to get there.

“It was very disheartening,” she said. “We were really crossing our T’s and dotting our I’s, and then deals would fall through.”

She continued working with her board and with allies locally and nationally — getting tips on securing a school building from colleagues and experts through her Building Excellent Schools Fellowship.

Finally, a fellow charter school leader found a space about five miles away, and Taylor started working on a plan to share space and pay for student transportation for a year as she continued looking for a permanent building.

But then, in early 2016, the temporary co-location arrangement fell through because the landlord didn’t have his own finances in place.

In mid-January — a couple of weeks before the Aurora charter school lottery — Taylor and her board made the hard decision to delay opening for a year.

“I was proud of the decision we were making. It was the right thing for students and families,” she said. “But on a personal level, it was devastating … I’d been working with all these families. I couldn’t wait until their kids could walk through the door.”

Today, Taylor — who received charter school support from the Walton Family Foundation — is still working with her board to find a suitable school building. They are exploring all the options, from buying and operating their own school buses to operating in modular, temporary spaces to financing new construction.

“It’s like a gigantic jigsaw puzzle. That 20% that doesn’t fit can make the whole thing fall apart,” she said. “You want to be an optimist but in order for this to work you have to be pragmatic.”

Learn more about the Building Equity Initiative, a first-of-its-kind nonprofit effort to provide charter schools with access to capital to create and expand facilities.

Building Equity Initiative
The Building Equity Initiative is an unprecedented effort to make it easier and more affordable for public charter schools to find, secure and renovate facilities.
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