ENCORE Academy’s move downtown will happen more gradually than expected, as the school will spend a year in the John Dibert building in Mid-City while renovations proceed at ENCORE’s eventual home at the Shaw building in the St. Roch neighborhood, officials announced Tuesday night.
“We’ll have the building to ourselves, and there’s plenty of room for all of our kids,” said ENCORE school leader Terri L. Smith. “It’s a great location for our families.”
ENCORE spent its first two years in the Crocker building in the Milan neighborhood, but after that school was handed over to the New Orleans College Prep charter organization last year, ENCORE was told it would have to find another home. ENCORE then purchased the Shaw building off the Orleans Parish School Board’s surplus property list last fall, and had hoped to have it ready for students by this August.
The complexities of finding financing for the $4 million to $5 million renovation project, however, have delayed that move-in, Smith said Tuesday night at the monthly meeting of the school’s governing board. School leaders have met with a number of local banks, but they were all reluctant to be the first to finance a charter school’s building project in New Orleans, Smith said.
Now, the Charter School Development Corporation is in the final stages of securing funding from national lenders, Smith said. Even that arrangement has been subject to extensive negotiations, Smith said, to ensure that the Orleans Parish School Board retains the right of first refusal to recover the property if ENCORE loses control of it for any reason.
Meanwhile, the John Dibert school had been slated for Lagniappe Academy, but that school opted not to move in next year for its own reasons, Smith said. Their decision freed up the school for ENCORE to use for a single year while the renovations at Shaw proceed, she said, and the plan is to have Shaw complete by the end of school in May 2015, so summer programs can begin at Shaw.
“A mid-year move is not a good thing,” Smith said.
Far fewer options were available for a temporary campus, Smith said, for ENCORE’s present size of 450 students, compared to the 200 students it had when it first began to share space with Crocker.
“I’m just happy we have a building,” Smith said.
This spring, ENCORE completed its second year of state testing. Based on the initial results, Smith said ENCORE is widely expected to improve its Score Performance Score from a “D” to a strong “C.” The improvement is partly because so many more upper-grade students who take the test have spent a full year at ENCORE now, Smith said — individual grade-level results are better for grades that have fewer first-year transfer students.
ENCORE still has vacancies for the coming year, particularly in kindergarten and second grade, Smith said, but she fully expects to meet the school’s enrollment goals because she is still fielding so many calls from interested parents.
The board also approved a $4.75 million budget for the 2014-15 school year. To read our live coverage of Tuesday’s board meeting, see below.