Bridges Preparatory School to buy Beaufort Boys & Girls Club site

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Bridges Preparatory School, a state charter school in its first full year of operation, is seeking to buy the Beaufort Boys & Girls Club property on Boundary Street, and expand its campus in downtown Beaufort.

Bridges Prep serves students in kindergarten through sixth grade, but plans to begin adding additional grades each year, starting with seventh grade in the upcoming 2014-2015 school year. The school opened in August of this year, with all its classrooms filled.

The Boys & Girls Clubs of the Lowcountry signed a purchase agreement this week with HighMark School Development, headquartered in Midvale, Utah, for the Beaufort Boys & Girls Club facility. HighMark bought the site on behalf of Bridges Preparatory School. HighMark specializes in buying and redeveloping real estate locations that become homes for charter schools.

“This is an ideal home for Bridges Preparatory School, in the heart of historic Beaufort, close to USCB, the Technical College of the Lowcountry, the city’s parks and athletic fields, the downtown county library, and to many of our families,” said Charlie Calvert, vice-chair of the Bridges Board of Directors.

“We are thrilled to be working with HighMark School Development and to partner with the Boys & Girls Clubs of the Lowcountry to make this happen,” he said. “We have exciting ideas for the school campus, and we’ll start working with Beaufort city staff as soon as possible.”

There is a 120-day due diligence period for Bridges Preparatory School and HighMark School Development to iron out details with the permitting agencies, primarily the City of Beaufort and the state’s Office of School Facilities.

The Bridges Preparatory campus concept includes:

• Converting the existing Boys & Girls Club facility at 1100 Boundary Street to offices, a gym, auditorium and cafeteria.

• Building all new kindergarten through eighth grade classrooms on land adjacent to the Boys & Girls Club, preserving green space and adding additional on-street parking.

• Utilizing nearby athletic fields, owned and maintained by the City of Beaufort.

• Possibly adding classrooms for high school grades nearby.

• Including parent, student and teacher feedback in the campus design.

“This will be the newest and most modern school in Beaufort,” said Bridges Board Chair, John Payne. “Our location lets us capitalize on amenities and services that are already in place, such as city parks, the county library and higher education institutions. It’s an exciting opportunity for us to grow.”

Because charter schools are start-ups, most are unable to borrow money to build or renovate facilities, Calvert indicated. HighMark School Development has financing to buy properties and renovate and/or build new classrooms or schools, and then sells the property to the charter school several years later. “HighMark is a way for charter schools to get new facilities early in their start-up years, which is a huge plus for South Carolina’s charter schools, because facilities are such an issue,” Calvert said.

Through the agreement with HighMark, their team will work to ensure that all necessary permits are obtained, and will handle the entire renovation and expansion process, from permitting to opening the school.

“We do what we do best, which is govern Bridges Preparatory School, and they do what they do best, which is dealing with permits, hiring architects and engineers, getting the best price for contractors and building us a new school,” Calvert said.

The Boys & Girls Club of Beaufort initially leased space to Bridges for this first year of operation. The school opened in August at capacity. The Boys & Girls Club continued to offer after-school programs at the site.

“We need to reinvent and reorganize our Beaufort Club with the goal of serving more kids who need us most,” Russell Whiteford, chairman of the Boys & Girls Clubs of the Lowcountry, said. “By selling our current Beaufort real estate, we can utilize the proceeds to open additional partnership clubs in the Beaufort community,” said Whiteford. “By expanding to geographically diverse locations, we’ll be able to widen our coverage and expand our membership and service.”

Of the 3,800 Boys & Girls Clubs in the United States, more than 50 percent are located in schools, public housing or military facilities, Whiteford said. While no specific locations have been announced for the Beaufort club, “This is the direction in which the Beaufort club is moving,” he said.

Since 2005, HighMark has developed more than 30 charter school properties nationally and has three projects under contract in South Carolina.

Bridges Preparatory School is a public state charter school (K-6 at present) that will ultimately become a K-12 institution, by adding a grade every year. Bridges Prep is a Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (S.T.E.M.) school that employs the Paideia methodology.

As a state-chartered school, Bridges Prep is open to all students in Beaufort County. Open enrollment begins January 1 and ends January 31. Two open house events are planned for Monday, January 13 and Tuesday, January 22, from 6 p.m. until 7:30 p.m. Applications can be found on the school website: http://bridgesprep.org/school-info/enrollment.