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December 2, 2020

Optimism grows for new charter school in Faith

By Carl Blankenship
carl.blankenship@salisburypost.com

FAITH — Days after the Rowan-Salisbury Schools Board of Education voted to close the town’s elementary school, would be founders of a charter school are energized about their chances of opening Faith Academy in 2021.

The charter just needs a stamp of approval from the state Board of Education in December.

And because the fate of Faith Elementary was a major point of discussion during the academy’s interview with the State Charter School Advisory Board, the Rowan-Salisbury Schools Board of Education may have simultaneously guaranteed the future of Faith Academy when it sealed the fate of Faith Elementary School on Monday.

The academy’s board of directors already has facility plans. Its top choice is to build a new facility on a piece of land in the town. The second is to bring in mobile units for the first year. As a final contingency, it has secured spaces in two local churches where it could hold classes for the first year as well. Board members also said they are interested in the Faith Elementary facility in the future.

Academy Chairman George Wilhelm said the board may be interested in turning the elementary school into the facility to host its high school grades a few years down the line. The academy plans to begin with grades K-7 and add an additional grade per year until it can teach students for all 13 years of their basic education.

RSS board Vice Chair Travis Allen said he was aware there is some community interest in the facility during the board’s Monday night meeting.

It would be possible for the academy to get the property, but there are some hurdles. The county has first right of refusal on the property if the district declares it surplus, meaning it could take transfer of the property from the district and use it for another purpose. Though, board attorney Ken Soo noted the district could lease the facility to someone instead. Wilhelm said the board plans to have conversations with the district and county about the property.

Another challenge is the state of the facility. The district has identified $3.4 million in capital needs at Faith Elementary, though classes have been held at the school for years with a similar level of issues with the facility. Using the facility to host high school program would, however, be more than two years away.

“We looked at it with that thought in mind,” said Gene Miller, a board member for the academy.

Miller, who used to be in charge of operations with RSS and is heading up facility operations for the academy, said it’s unlikely to construct a permanent building before classes begin in August. Miller noted winter weather poses an additional challenge for construction workers on top of the tight timeline. The academy wants to host about 500 students during its first year.

Miller said the academy can lease mobile units and, once it has finished a permanent facility, it plans to lease the school from the contractor. Miller said the lease agreement would include the school being able to lease the facility for a certain number of years with the option to purchase the facility or continue leasing at the end of the term.

Taking into account all the options available to the academy for a facility, Miller is confident it will be ready for next school year.

“We’re going to, in some shape or form, have a school available,” Miller said.

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