The state public charter Ross Montessori School in Carbondale is going after a $5.5 million federal USDA rural development loan that would allow it to proceed with at least the first phase of its planned new school building, after losing out on a large state grant last fall.
If approved, the loan, coupled with the school’s approximately $1 million in capital campaign funds and a possible smaller grant through the Colorado Building Excellent Schools Today (BEST) program, could allow the 240-student pre-kindergarten through eighth-grade school to close on a piece of land and maybe even begin construction later this year.
“That would be our hope, but a lot of things have to happen first,” said Mark Kavasch, vice president of the Ross Montessori School (RMS) board.
The school has operated for nine years under the Colorado Charter School Institute in a complex of modular buildings in a light industrial area near the center of town.
Kavasch earned a letter of support for the U.S. Department of Agriculture Rural Development Community Facilities Loan request from the Garfield County commissioners earlier this week. The Carbondale Town Board has also lent its support.
RMS remains under contract to acquire a 2.73-acre parcel within the approved Thompson Park subdivision on Highway 133 in Carbondale, where it had originally hoped to build a new 38,500-square-foot school that could accommodate up to 350 students.
The school was in line to receive an $11.8 million large BEST grant before its plans to earn approvals to build on another piece of land outside Carbondale fell through.
It then moved to the wait list for the building construction grant, but fell off the list when several other Colorado schools and school districts that were ahead of Ross were successful in winning voter approval for matching funds the November 2013 election.
Kavasch said Ross has applied for a smaller type BEST grant of about $800,000, which does not require coming up with local financing to fund a construction project.
“The current school construction is suspect, the modulars [are] not holding up very well, and the school is at maximum capacity with 240 students,” Kavasch explained in the USDA loan request. “We have turned students away for lack of room.”
Also, the school’s landlord has plans to eventually redevelop the property and would like the school to move, he explained.
The loan, combined with the capital funds and the potential state grant, would allow RMS to start with a 19,790-square-foot facility on the new site. The location would allow for an additional 20,000 square feet of space to be added in the future, Kavasch noted in the loan request.
“Phase II does not need to be completed, but we will continue our capital campaign so we can eventually add on,” he said.
“Our hope is to start construction this summer” at least on the foundation, Kavasch explained to county commissioners at their Monday meeting. If all goes as planned, the new school building could be ready for the 2015-16 school year or possibly even sooner, he said.
Commissioner Tom Jankovsky did have some questions about RMS’ current enrollment of Latino students, which Kavasch said is around 12 percent.
Kavasch added that the school continues to do outreach to try to attract more Latino families and better mirror the enrollment at the traditional public schools in the area, which tends to run about 50 percent or more Latino students.
“I did question the minority population, but I would like to send a letter of support for this,” Jankovsky said of the loan proposal. “The school does provide an alternative form of education in the community, and it has been embraced by the community.”