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Walden Academy looking for larger campus
Booming enrollment at Walden Academy in Willows may force the small public school to another campus.
The Walden Academy school board will meet weekly over the next few months until officials iron out where their students will go to school next fall.
The school board is looking at the former Sunshine Market as a possible location to keep students in kindergarten through eighth grade on one campus, instead of renting yet a third location for a junior high.
Walden currently leases classrooms at St. Monica's Catholic Church for its first- through seventh-grade classes, and a building on Pacific Avenue for kindergarten and administrative offices.
"Sunshine Market provides us an opportunity to be all under one roof," said Walden board President Kelly Lawler.
Walden Academy was formed as a public charter school two years ago with students in kindergarten through sixth grade.
The school added seventh grade last year and intends to add eighth grade this fall to keep up as students age.
Another option would be to rent classrooms from Willows Unified School District or Glenn County Office of Education, but having students at three separate locations is a safety concern, according to principal Mele Benz.
Benz is responsible for carrying out lockdown procedures when necessary and would have to travel between campuses for disciplinary action.
Benz said Sunshine Market would be ideal if the work can be completed by fall.
"It would be a lot safer than spitting students up," Benz said in a conference call with the school board on Tuesday,
School officials are also considering renting the empty retail space next to Round Table Pizza, which will at least place the junior high students in close proximity to Walden's primary campus on Wood Street.
The board is also working with the Diocese of Sacramento to see if the church would be willing to make the necessary improvement that would allow for two additional classrooms.
Necessary power upgrades alone are estimated at $40,000, officials said.
As with Walden, the landlord would be responsible to make the improvements in exchange for increased rent and a long-term agreement from the school.
Walden currently pays $3,900 a month to rent St. Monica's campus and $1,600 for the Pacific Avenue administration building.
"Because we are a public school, we cannot spend public dollars to fix up private property," Lawler said.
The school, however, would be responsible for the cost of architectural designs and engineering costs, which school officials said could be covered by the money remaining from their start-up grant.
Lawler said the school should be able to handle an increase in rent for the improvements at either St. Monica's or Sunshine Market due to the anticipated increase in enrollment next year, primarily from a new group of kindergartners coming in.
The school board chose Sunshine Market as a possible location because it was completely remodeled after a fire destroyed the store in 2011, just six weeks after opening.
Financial loses, however, prevented the owner from reopening the business and it has remained vacant.
The most expensive improvement to the facility would be the construction of additional restrooms, but the spaciousness of the building would allow for enough classrooms, the administrative office, an eventual library, science lab and food service area, as well as a teacher's lounge, private entrance and restroom.
The downside is that the school would have less room for an outside play area, officials said.
The front parking area is owned by the city. Officials have indicated preliminary support for the project because it would potentially bring more people to the downtown on a daily basis.
Lawler said the school will have to move quickly to finalize its options.
She expects to have more information about projected costs when the board meets again Tuesday.
By then, school officials will have also discussed the options for St. Monica's improvements with the church so they will have a better idea what direction Walden will go.
Lawler said she prefers the Sunshine Market plan because it provides a more secure campus where all students will be together.
She also has ideas to compensate for the lack of green grass and rolling hills.
Because the Sunshine Market improvements may lock the school into a minimum 10-year lease, it would also give Walden officials time to consider long-term planning for a "build-to-suit" campus that resembles a more traditional school.
"Maybe we could start a building fund," Lawler said.
Contact Susan Meeker at 934-6800 or firstname.lastname@example.org.