Only four of the eight directors of Encore Academy showed up for their Feb. 25 board meeting, and in the absence of a quorum it was impossible to take formal action. But there was plenty to discuss with the consultant heading up renovation of the building that’s to be the school’s new home.
Encore, currently housed at Crocker Elementary in Central City, is in the process of moving to the former John A. Shaw Elementary School building in the St. Roch neighborhood. The building took on four feet of water in Katrina’s aftermath and stood empty for many years. Encore plans to move in for the coming school year.
Board members of the arts-focused charter took pleasure in noting that the 2.27-acre site is at the corner of Music and Arts streets. The main building is 33,800 square feet and dates to 1939. The renovation calls for new wiring, plumbing, HVAC, walls, floors and ceilings. Crews will add new restrooms on upper floors, as well as an elevator.
The work includes demolition of two buildings on the property and their replacement with a performing arts center after work on the main building is complete.
Karl Jentoft of TenSquare, a national charter school consulting firm working on the project with the Charter School Development Corp., expressed confidence that the renovation would be completed by the end of July as scheduled.
“I think we’ve assembled a team that’s very experienced and able to get this project done,” Jentoft told the Board, later adding that the finished product will have “curb appeal.”
The team assembled by Jentoft and the Charter School Development Corp. includes Michigan-based contractor Bouma Construction and local architect Mathes Brierre. Local subcontractors will complete the renovation.
Procedural hurdles must be jumped before the work begins, however.
Since the building was vacant, a conditional-use permit is required. To obtain it, the school must notify the neighborhood and hold a public meeting, scheduled for March 10.
Jentoft said the school should have secured a demolition permit by early May, allowing crews to begin to prep the site. The conditional-use permit should be in hand by the end of May, he said.
The act of sale has yet to be executed. Officials hope to complete the transfer of $135,000 by the end of March. The Orleans Parish School Board, which owns the Shaw Building, has already signed off on the purchase, but the final legal pieces are still being pulled together, Jentoft said.
The Charter School Development Corp. will own the building and lease it to Encore Academy. The lease will carry a purchase option for the charter school should sufficient financing become available.
Jentoft said officials are currently in talks with lenders to complete the project. Meanwhile, the development firm is financing the $4.9 million renovation.
Jentoft acknowledged that time is short. He said workers likely would be still completing punch lists after the school opens. New construction would have taken longer, he noted.
“The thing that made this possible for us is that we aren’t doing ground-up construction here,” Jentoft said. “That takes a lot of surprises off the table.”
In other business, school leader Terri Smith provided an update on enrollment. Since Oct. 1, the school lost 38 students to attrition but is currently above its enrollment goal of 316, she said.
Thirty-six of the 38 left the parish or the state, “so it’s not like they’re choosing to go to another school,” Smith said.
Applications for next year are trickling in via the OneApp process. She noted that a slow enrollment process is typical in Orleans Parish.
Smith also gave an update on the school’s ongoing transition to the PARCC assessment, a test in alignment with Common Core standards that will be given nationwide. Students will begin to take the test Louisiana next year, but, like other schools, Encore already has been giving practice tests to students in grades 3-6.
Across the board, the students scored below the level of their performance on other assessments, Smith said. She outlined a series of steps to address the low scores, including Saturday tutoring, extra instruction time in reading and math for at-risk students and extra staffing three days a week in math classes for grades 4-6.
The Board is planning a retreat to address bylaws, performance evaluations, plans for fundraising and succession. Without a quorum, however, they were unable to formally schedule a date.