Education & Workforce Development and Environment

Charter school leaving train station location for its own 'empowerment center':

April 18, 2005

21st Century Charter School is pulling away from Union Station.

Nearly three years after reinventing 17,000 square feet of space that once housed a bar and Hooter's restaurant, school sponsor Greater Educational Opportunities Foundation has plans to build a stand-alone facility about five miles to the north.

GEO has agreed to buy a two-acre parcel at 25th Street and Capitol Avenue that was to be the site of the Fall Creek Retail Center, an ill-fated project that fell apart in the late 1990s.

Property owner Near North Development Corp. started looking at other options about a year ago, agency President Amy Kotzbauer said, and the charter school's proposal "floated to the top."

"It looks like it will be a really good asset for the community," she said.

Union Station has served 21st Century well, but space was getting tight, school CEO Kevin Teasley said. The 186-student school expects to grow to 300 students this fall.

"I love this building, I love this location-it's a neat facility," he said. "But as an educational environment, I don't know if it's conducive to maximizing student learning."

The school has a 10-year lease with the city of Indianapolis, which owns the former train-depot-turned-entertainment venue. Officials were contemplating their options, Teasley said, when they got the proverbial offer they couldn't refuse:

Union Station neighbor R.W. Armstrong said it would buy out the school's lease and pay off its $420,000 construction loan so the engineering firm could expand into the space.

R.W. Armstrong President Roland Salman confirmed a deal is in the works, but said details haven't been finalized.

"We are growing very fast," he said. "We're running out of room."

Teasley and other 21st Century leaders are seizing the opportunity to design a school that fits their one-room schoolhouse educational model. Two clusters of classrooms will be on either side of a shared gymnasium/auditorium, separating elementary-age students from middleand high-schoolers.

Construction is expected to begin next month, and the school hopes to open the new school year in the new location.

GEO will pay for the $3.3 million "empowerment center" with private financing, and give the school a long-term lease. In the evenings and on weekends, the facility will be used for tutoring and parent training.

The Indianapolis-based foundation is building identical facilities for the charter schools it is opening in Gary and Colorado Springs, Colo., Teasley said.
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