AS FEATURED IN DAILY BREEZE
By Rob Kuznia
Photo credit: Brad Graverson
Published: December 26, 2013
The Environmental Charter network of public schools has received a special loan that will enable it to finish the renovation of a new middle school campus near Gardena. Part of the loan will be forgiven.
The deal was made possible by the federal Community Renewal Tax Relief Act of 2000, passed by Congress to spur revitalization efforts in low-income communities throughout the country.
The 9-month-old campus — one of three in the Environmental Charter network — serves 340 students in what was an abandoned church property at 812 W. 165th Place in Harbor Gateway.
The renovation of two of the property’s three buildings is finished. The loan will enable Environmental Charter Middle School-Gardena to complete the $2.5 million renovation of the third building — the actual former church.
“Our top priority is to provide excellent educational opportunities in underserved communities, but we aren’t content to stop there,” said Alison Suffet-Diaz, founder and executive director of Environmental Charter Schools, in a statement. “The conversion of what once was an abandoned, dilapidated, graffiti-ridden church into a beautiful, state-of-the-art … campus benefits the whole community.”
The loan means the school will break ground next month on the second phase of a project whose completed first phase cost $6 million and included creation of 12 classrooms, with a plant-decorated atrium cut into the center of the two-story main building. The first phase also included installing bathrooms and administrative offices in a second building.
Costing an estimated $2.5 million, the second phase of the project will renovate the third of the property’s three buildings — the dilapidated former church. In its place will be a two-story structure with a multipurpose room for performances on the top floor and offices and a space for art projects on the bottom floor.
The second phase also will convert the patios of two upper-floor classrooms of the main building into greenhouses.
Construction on the second phase of the project is set to begin Jan. 6. That section of the school is expected to be ready in late August.
Designed to blur the lines between indoors and outdoors, the school’s main building includes plenty of windows and skylights as well as several downstairs classrooms with roll-up garage doors to access an outdoor patio.
The Environmental Charter franchise aims to deliver a green-focused curriculum to urban students. It opened in 2001 in Lawndale. That first campus, which also opened on the site of a former church but moved to 16315 Grevillea Ave. in Lawndale, now serves 500-plus students and has received numerous accolades from the Obama administration.
In 2010, Environmental Charter opened a middle school in Inglewood — again, on an abandoned private-school campus of a church. That campus on West Imperial Highway serves 130 students in grades six and seven; next year it will add grade eight.
The loan to complete the third campus is a complex arrangement that involves multiple banks and investors. To qualify for the loan, the school’s administration had to go through a lengthy application process that demonstrated how the project would benefit the community. Although the school needed $2.5 million to finish the renovations, the amount of the loan is actually $8.5 million.
That’s because, in addition to enabling Environmental Charter to finish the renovations, the $8.5 million transaction has allowed the school’s foundation (Menlo Charter Property) to purchase the property. The sale went through Dec. 20.
Diaz said the school’s foundation will be expected to repay approximately $7.5 million to the investors, who include NCB Capital Impact, U.S. Bank and Pacific Charter School Development. The rest of the loan will be forgiven.
The arrangement is known as a New Market Tax Credit, which was established as part of the Community Renewal Tax Relief Act of 2000.
For the foreseeable future, the school will continue to lease the property from its own foundation (Menlo) at a cost of $32,000 a month. Those payments will come from revenue the public school gets from the state based on student attendance. Without the loan, the monthly payments would amount to nearly $40,000, Diaz said.