The Chester Charter School for the Arts will be returning to its namesake city in 2017 after agreeing to purchase a large tract of land from the Chester Housing Authority.
The 11-acre site on Highland Avenue, between 12th Street and Township Line Road, will be home to a newly-built school for the arts-based charter, which is expanding its curriculum to high school grades beginning this fall."As we expand to high school grades, we're running out of room," said CCSA Board of Trustees President Don Delson.
The school's 500 students currently attend classes in a converted warehouse building at a Chester Township industrial park. "Fortunately, we found this 11-acre parcel of land owned by the housing authority. They were anxious to sell it and we were anxious to buy it."The land once was home to a CHA housing community, which was demolished about 10 years ago.
Since then, newer housing was constructed on adjacent property, but efforts to attract businesses to the vacant land were unsuccessful."The failure to develop that site over the course of many years ... led us to finally loosen our determination and consider other business interests for this site," said CHA Executive Director Steven A Fischer, referring to multiple attempts to lure a grocery chain to the parcel. "A school happened to be one of those interests.
"The school and housing authority have been in discussions for a few months, Fischer said, and the sale price of $2.3 million was set by the Department of Housing and Urban Development. While the sale has not yet been finalized, Delson said the charter school and its supporting organization, The Chester Fund, have begun planning for the construction of a new school building. Architects and engineers have been hired, and Delson foresees submitting a site plan to the planning commissions in the city and in Delaware County by Sept. 1, with construction slated to begin in May 2016.
"We need to break ground no later than May 1 because we need to occupy the new building no later than August 2017," Delson said. With plans to add a new grade level each year, space is at a premium. "We don't have the room where we are. By fall of 2017, the school will be offering a K-11 program."The school will have many features not available in the current building, such as ample recreation space that will include softball and soccer fields, a basketball gym, a theater and a cafeteria/auditorium. More natural lighting will also be included in the design, which is close to being finalized.
"The new building will be fitted out for our children and for our program," Delson said.He declined to provide a price tag for the new construction, but did say that it would be "quite expensive." Financing will come through a capital campaign and state grant applications, as well as a tax-free bond issue.The $2.3 million sale price will also benefit the housing authority, which has been suffering from federal sequestration cuts over the past few years. Fischer said that while no one program will benefit from the payment, he has some ideas of where to apply the funds.
"We can use the infusion of capital," Fischer said. "The funds will be put into programming for our residents. We certainly are experiencing shortfalls in several areas ... I'd like to think that somewhere along the line it will help fill out some staffing needs."