In December, workers began preparing an 18-acre site on White Eagle Boulevard in Lakewood Ranch to become the home of the new Lakewood Ranch Preparatory Academy.
Construction companies Red Apple Development and Ryan Cos. are making sure they are working fast.
In today's world of supply chain issues, Charter Schools USA has asked Red Apple Development and Charter Schools USA to have the approximately 42,000-square-foot school ready to open by mid July. The new school is scheduled to open in August and parents already have been enrolling students.
Besides construction, Red Apple Development and Ryan Cos. also are working to finish permitting.
Lakewood Ranch Preparatory Academy will be a K-12 charter school being opened by Southwest Charter Foundation and Charter Schools USA. Included among Southwest Charter Foundation's eight Florida schools is Manatee Charter School of Bradenton.
The new Lakewood Ranch school will focus on science and health with a mission of its students becoming lifelong learners.
With only seven months left before Lakewood Ranch Preparatory Academy hopes to open for the 2022-2023 school year, Scott Woodrey, the president of Red Apple Development, said the project, indeed, is on schedule despite the prevailing construction climate.
Woodrey said the Fort Lauderdale-based Red Apple Development has worked with Ryan Cos. to construct at least half of the nearly 90 charter schools Red Apple has built over the past decade. Ryan Cos. is a national construction firm that also handles architecture and engineering, development, real estate management and more.
He said they are able to construct the building at a fast rate because of Red Apple Development’s established relationship with Ryan Cos., because of their understanding of cost controls and value engineering, and because they understand the requirements under the educational facility section of the Florida Building Code.
Woodrey said unlike traditional public schools, charter schools do not need to abide by the State Requirements for Educational Facilities (SREF).
Instead, a charter school can follow the requirements under the educational facility section of the Florida Building Code, which Woodrey said is “no less stringent” than the State Requirements for Educational Facilities but has different requirements such as the size of the facility.
“We’re not obligated to the same minimum square footage requirements as (SREF), so it allows us to build a little bit smaller school that is still completely adequate,” Woodrey said.
Woodrey said buildings constructed under the State Requirements for Educational Facilities are generally 15% larger, which takes a little longer to construct as well as more money.
The lower school of Lakewood Ranch Preparatory Academy will eventually house kindergarten through eighth grades.
Another way the charter school is able to be built at a faster rate is Red Apple Development submits building plans and permit applications to run concurrently with its site plan approval process. By doing so, when the site plan gets approved, the building permits are ready not too long after, Woodrey said.
“It also does involve some economic risk because we’re assuming the site plan is going to get approved or that we’ve done our homework and we’re going to be able to start construction once that happens,” Woodrey said. “There is always a case that they don’t approve our site plan and then all the money and time that we spent on building plans and paying for review could get wasted, but that’s a very rare situation.”
Red Apple Development also uses a model of a school they’ve constructed before so its staff doesn’t have to continually design a school from scratch.
“In Florida we’ve built over 50 schools, and there’s several different models,” Woodrey said. “We’re constantly looking to improve, and we know educational expectations and requirements are constantly evolving. What we built 10 years ago isn’t necessarily the best option today for the teachers and what they need. (But while) we’re constantly refining, we tend to start with a base that works and then tweak it as we go.”
He said Lakewood Ranch Preparatory Academy will look similar in size and scope to Creekside Charter Academy in Hillsborough County and Union Park Charter Academy in Pasco County.
On the Lakewood Ranch site, Woodrey expects earthwork to be complete at the beginning of February and he anticipates the building permits to be ready around the same time.
Afterward, work will begin in putting plumbing into the ground, constructing tilt walls and more. Woodrey said tilt walls are a faster form of construction because the walls are poured horizontally onto the building’s floor slab and a crane hoists the panels into place. He said the construction of the title ways usually is a 45-day process.
Woodrey plans to have the school complete by July 15 to July 20 to allow time for teachers and staff to move in and be prepared for the first day of school in August.
Many construction companies are facing supply chain issues as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. Woodrey said they have mitigated supply issues by ordering supplies they knew would take several months to deliver ahead of time. For example, Red Apple Development ordered structural steel and Icynene, which is the insulation that goes into the roof system, in September knowing it could take six to eight months to be delivered.
Woodrey hopes to start construction on the high school, which will house grades nine through 12, in September or October because it’ll take longer to construct. Charter Schools USA plans to open the high school in August 2023.