A proposal to relocate the King Center Charter School is raising concerns among some community leaders who say the move would essentially abandon one of the city’s historic buildings and hurt the neighborhood in which it has become an anchor.
The charter school now leases space in the King Urban Life Center, which is located in the former St. Mary of Sorrows Church on Genesee Street. The building was slated for demolition in the late 1980s, but the church community and local preservationists fought to save it. Ultimately, it became the site of the King Urban Life Center, and the charter school is the biggest program to operate there.
Some charter school leaders, however, say the building no longer meets their needs and that it makes more financial sense for the school to move into its own building. Last week, the school’s board of trustees authorized the purchase of the former School 71 on Lang Avenue, in the Bailey-Delavan area a little over two miles away.
But the potential move doesn’t sit well with some city leaders, who say that the school’s relocation will be detrimental to the neighborhood.
Fillmore Council Member David A. Franczyk, who represents the district in which the school now sits, said that the school’s leaders have been underhanded in their dealings and that they should have approached the city for help expanding their current facilities rather than looking to abandon them.
“I’m outraged by their tactics,” Franczyk said. “They could bring us their needs, but they’re trying to bully us to approve this.”
“That neighborhood greatly benefits from that school,” he added. “You’re abandoning one neighborhood for another.”
Although it is a separate legal entity, the school leases space in the King Urban Life Center for $167,000 a year. The cost to buy the former School 71 would be $330,000. School 71 is owned by the city and has been vacant since the school closed in 2008. The sale would have to be approved by the Common Council.
Robert J. Kresse, a board member for both the charter school and the King Urban Life Center, said the center offered to raise the money required to revamp the facility to meet the school’s needs.
Critics, including Franczyk and Kresse, also say the school has been presenting the plan as a done deal, although it has not yet come before the Council.
Despite the center’s offer to meet the school’s needs, school leaders have opted to look for a new space, saying the move will allow the school to grow from 312 to 432 students and add an eighth grade to its current structure of kindergarten through seventh grade. The school expects to reach 432 students by 2017.
In a letter to Council members, King Charter Board President Catherine T. Wettlaufer and Executive Director Keith Frome reinforced the need for a new space.
“This is the bottom line: Our board, which includes two parent representatives, determined that continuing to pay $167,000 a year in rent makes little sense when the opportunity for outright ownership is available,” the letter states.
Lovejoy Council Member Richard A. Fontana, who represents the district the charter school wants to move into, said all of the plans he has seen so far make sense and that he understands the school’s need for a new location.
Fontana is hosting a public forum today to get feedback on the proposed move. The forum is from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. in the Schiller Park Senior Center, 2057 Genesee St.