The Sarasota School of Arts and Sciences has almost become like a house with many additions — none of which quite match. The school has expanded over the years by adding and converting buildings, but, frequently, teachers have floated between classrooms and even taught in the cafeteria.
“We started thinking about the idea of building a new school in 2005,” said Executive Director Pepar Anspaugh. “We started a savings fund and said, ‘As soon as we get $1 million, we’ll start building.’”
Anspaugh thought fundraising would take at least six years, but, just four years later, in 2009, the school reached its goal.
“We have an annual celebration fundraiser, which brings maybe $20,000 per year, but the biggest thing is that we only spend 62% of our income for salaries, while most schools spend 85%,” Anspaugh said. “We’re able to put the excess money toward programs and savings, and this is due to most of the teachers playing dual roles so we don’t have to hire outside for administration help.”
At the school’s board of directors meeting in February, Richard Moreno, the executive director of Building Hope, a non-profit organization, spoke to the group about his work with various charter schools to help them find financing and about the financing options he had explored for SSAS — bank and bond financing, so that the school would not have to deplete its cash reserves.
“This is not the same as building a public school,” said Jamie Bailey, assistant to the executive director for SSAS. “We’re building and flying the plane and need architects, funding and a builder.”
Anspaugh explained to the board that MG3 Development Group, the construction company hired to build the new school, frequently builds and owns charter-school properties and then leases them to the schools, but it is rare for charter schools to own their own property.
“We asked them how much money we would need to build the school and gymnasium and were told $6.5 million,” Bailey said. “We had purchased the property in 2004 and thought we had $2.4 million tied to that, but would still need a substantial loan at this point to pay that off.”
Moreno brought in PNC Bank, and after reviewing the figures and calling Standard and Poor’s to find out the school’s credit rating — a triple B minus — decided to go with a bond sale. Sarasota County issued the school series 2010 bonds in the amount of $11.04 million.
“This was a very proud moment because most charter schools don’t have great credit,” Anspaugh said. “If the city hadn’t spoken so well and given such high marks to Standard and Poor’s, we never would have gotten this going.”
On June 30, demolition will commence on buildings from 701 to 717 Central Ave. Two new buildings will be constructed in their place: a 42,930-square-foot, three-story educational facility and parking area (scheduled for completion Nov. 30); and a 10,679-square-foot gymnasium and community center (anticipated to begin work in May 2011).
“The idea has been to make the school a community center with adult classes for learning English, computer skills and setting up basketball leagues to make it more alive,” Anspaugh said. “We’re not the kind of school that puts up gates and locks — we want the community to participate.”
Seventh Street will be closed, with pavers put down to create a campus feel. The school is donating 20 feet to the city by moving its campus to the south, which will offer more parking spaces, which Anspaugh says is critical for the downtown edge. Because the city wanted a storefront effect, the educational facility will feature storefront windows so the public can stroll the streets and view the performing- and martial-arts classes.
The current two-story arts building will be the only remaining building once construction is complete. Tasha Tahmosh, SSAS dean of academic affairs, is looking forward to the expansion.
“I’m excited the teachers will all be able to have classrooms and not have to teach in the cafeteria,” Tahmosh said. “It will be more effective, and having a home base will let them enjoy their jobs more. The new facility will be high-tech and less waste as far as repairs and leaks. We’ll all be together and give kids that real school feeling, which is nice.”
The school’s motto this year is: “SSA+S is living proof that dreams can and do come true.”
“Exciting is not even a word,” Anspaugh said. “It’s totally invigorating. Then, to see how the children and parents have been responding — of course they want us to start a high school. But I want the best middle school in the nation first.”
BY THE NUMBERS
7 — Number of people who founded SSAS
665 — Students currently enrolled
750 — Anticipated student enrollment following project completion
225 — Students on the school’s waiting list
10,679 — Approximate square footage of physical education/gym/community center building
42,930 — Approximate square footage of the three-story educational building