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New Discoveries will buy its building, offer space for mental health

Hutchinson Leader - 2/3/2018

With new classrooms, more room for students, plans to expand and a building purchase on the horizon, there is plenty to look forward to at Hutchinson's New Discoveries Montessori Academy.

The charter school, which teaches kids in kindergarten through sixth grade, has had room to grow and make plans this year now that another of Hutchinson's charter schools, New Century, has moved to School Road. The two schools shared a Fifth Avenue Southeast building for the past several years.

"Everything fell into place the last few months for us," said Dave Conrad, executive director of New Discoveries.

BUILDING PURCHASE

New Discoveries' building is owned by a group of local investors under the name TRJR Properties. Now the school plans to purchase the building.

It was built in 2008 for New Century and New Discoveries, with the vision of creating a home for both charter schools.

"It was an awesome group of people who said 'Let's look at this and see if it makes sense,'" Conrad said. "This group of investors knew what both schools were doing and were excited about it. They said 'We can make this possible.'"

The two schools moved in together to save money on expenses such as for gyms and nurses, and rented the new space. But as time went on, both grew, and the same space couldn't fit both.

"Between the two schools, we had been too crowded here the last couple of years," Conrad said.

New Century's move came at the right time for New Discoveries, which is now in a financial position to own its building, instead of renting.

State laws restrict the means charter schools have to own and fund their facilities. Public schools, such as Hutchinson's District 423, can levy, as they have borders. Charter schools do not.

"There was something called lease aid set aside through legislation to help with facility costs," Conrad said.

That lease aid goes to pay the building owners, and the way the financing option is worded, it means the school can rent, but not own the property outright. Charter schools are allowed to work around that by forming a separate building company to own the buildings.

"(When we started) we were too new to do that, too new to find bonding, it wasn't possible," Conrad said.

Now roughly 10 years later, the story is different. Conrad said New Discoveries Affiliated Building Co. had been formed, and secured funding. The United States Department of Agriculture has guaranteed the loan as part of rural development.

"We are weeks away from the closing date," Conrad said. "It is a multimillion dollar investment in the future of the children and the families we currently serve, and families well into the future."

Lease aid given to the school, and paid to NDABC can then go into upkeep and expansion of the school building.

ROOM TO GROW

With the space left to New Discoveries by New Century's move, the school is ready to grow.

Walls will be demolished, and classroom spaces will grow to fit the school's philosophy of mixing student grades together and making sure each room has two or more teaching staff available. Instead of rows of desks, classrooms are filled with project spaces, tables where students collaborate, and computer stations.

Over the next few years, New Discoveries plans to add seventh-grade and eighth-grade sections with mixed grades.

"Having 40,000 square feet to ourselves, rather than sharing with another school, gives us the opportunity to look at how we are serving our children and families," Conrad said, "and look at our mission, and determine how to best use this added real estate."

Part of that opportunity came in the form of a newly outfitted science lab with tables and desks purchased for pennies on the dollar from another school district. Other furniture is going to a set of offices planned for a more unique undertaking.

"Currently, seven local clinics see some of our students and families," Conrad said, "Either for skills work or mental health counseling. What happens sometimes is families are able to schedule those appointments outside school hours, but sometimes they can't. So they are scheduling them during the day ? and they miss this chunk of time."

To help, New Discoveries plans to offer a collection of offices to mental health practitioners. The spaces are not yet fully renovated, but the plan is to have locked cabinet and closet space for visiting practitioners to store needed equipment, and quickly display it, or simply provide enough space for visitors to set up.

"It's not always easy for a family to provide transportation to and from a clinic appointment," Conrad said. "This not only adds value for the childrens' time, but also adds value for families."

"We try to build a relationship with partners we work with," said Kirsten Kinzler, associate director of New Discoveries. "This way we can meet face to face. A lot is over the telephone."

She said scheduling still needs to be ironed out, as it may be difficult for practitioners to come and go from two sites all day. But it may be possible to schedule certain portions of the day at the school.

"I wasn't sure how clinics were going to respond," Conrad said. "Without exception, everyone I contacted said, 'Seriously, really? We can do this? You have that much space?' There was no, 'That's really stupid, that won't work.' It's been very well received."

Kinzler said the school wants to make sure kids have the opportunity to receive the services they need.

"For those who need this, what better time than when they are young?" she said. "'Gosh, if we could just come in and see them in the classroom.' That's another thing we hear."

Conrad said unfortunately trauma is prevalent, even for children. He hopes the school's offering will be able to help increase access to services students need.

"This has been a dream, a vision for 10 years," he said.

 
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