A two-year-old Buffalo charter school plans to relocate from its temporary rental space on Michigan Avenue to a boarded-up former public school building at the corner of Urban and Moselle streets, which it will redevelop into a permanent location for its K-8 program.
Persistence Preparatory Academy Charter School is asking the city to approve a designated developer agreement for the former P.S. 62, allowing it to buy and renovate the three-story brick school complex at 376-378 Urban St. and 230 Moselle St. The purchase price is set at $315,000, based on an appraisal of the century-old property.
The request for the one-year development contract is pending before the Common Council, with a recommendation from the city's Office of Strategic Planning, according to a memo filed as part of the Council's agenda.
According to the memo, the small school intends to use the property to serve children from kindergarten through eighth grade, moving from its current leased space at 833 Michigan, where it has been located since opening in August 2018.
It now occupies about 12,000 square feet on the third floor and part of the second, but shares the building with Head Start, said founder and Head of School Joelle Formato. "We're running out of space," she said. "Our board is looking at a number of potential options."
Specific details of the development plan for the building were not described in the memo. Formato said school officials have seen the P.S. 62 building, but still need to conduct a thorough environmental review and "get a better lay of the land to see if it is the possibility that we hope it will be."
That testing and surveying can't begin without a developer agreement in place. "We know it'll need asbestos remediation and quite a lot of renovation," she said. "It's something we're very interested in."
The school would also need approval from the State Education Department, not to mention site plan approval and building permits from the city. So in the meantime, Persistence will stay at Michigan "for the foreseeable future, until we can figure out the next steps," Formato added, citing the 2021-2022 school year as the earliest likely date for a move.
The 54,750-square-foot, two-building complex was constructed in 1906 and operated as a public school until it closed in 1980. The original building featured arched windows, dormers and ornate entrances, but some of those architectural details have been removed, and the smaller window spaces were boarded up between 2005 and 2012.
Under the plan being considered, Persistence would occupy the older 31,886-square-foot portion of the empty building. Funds for the purchase would come from the school's existing capital, while the redevelopment and operating expenses would be covered through the Charter Schools Development Corp. The school also agreed to comply with minimum city standards for using minorities and women among contractors and construction workers.
A secondary, 22,864-square-foot section is currently being used to house Crucial Human Services Inc., which provides an "alternative" and "safe" place for residents of the North Fillmore area – including youth and senior citizens – to gather. That's run by the Buffalo Urban League, under a three-year lease approved in May 2019.
Programs include homework assistance and reading programs, recreational and cultural enrichment, arts and crafts, tae kwon do, computer and related technology classes, day and summer camps, education seminars, cheerleading, basketball, dance instruction, field trips and educational seminars.
As part of the proposed developer contract, the school agreed to continue providing at least 15,000 square feet of space in the building for the Urban League or another "community servicing partner acceptable to the city," to provide services to meet the neighborhood's needs.
Meanwhile, the Broadway-Fillmore Neighborhood Housing Services owns a separate 28,184-square-foot building that used to be part of the school property but has since been walled off, with its own address at 376 Urban. It's now a 27-unit affordable housing project.
Persistence Prep was founded by Formato and other families through the Building Excellent Schools Fellowship, a national nonprofit program designed to train people to start and run new schools. The school received its charter in 2017, and officially opened in August 2018 with 108 children.
The school currently goes up to second grade with 170 students and 25 faculty members, but is accepting enrollment through third grade for next year. Plans call for adding more grades each year until the school reaches its capacity at eighth, with 486 students.
"We've had a really successful year and a half up until this point, and we just have to look to the long run to make sure we have the facility to support our academic program," Formato said.