Building Charter Schools For the Future

The following conversation is based on an interview with Scott Woodrey, president of Red Apple Development. Red Apple is a sister company of Charter Schools USA.

What is Red Apple Development?

Red Apple Development was created in 2007 to address the needs of Charter School growth across the United States. Our attention is focused on the acquisition, design, and development of private, public, and charter school facilities.

How does Red Apple build charter schools at half the cost of traditional public schools?

The nature of our business—public education—requires us to bring a very high quality product at a significantly reduced cost. Charter schools are public schools. Unfortunately, these schools have to operate at nearly 30% less funding than traditional public schools. In many ways, we have no choice but to build and operate schools with more efficiency.

The biggest reason we are able to reduce cost is that charter schools are exempt from SREF (State Requirements for Educational Facilities) and district code requirements that traditional public schools must adhere to in regards to facilities. In addition, we have been aggressive in bringing competitive developers together in a bidding capacity to drive down costs and limit change orders and construction cycle. All of these factor into a reduced cost, consistent product and on time opening of schools.

In addition, our experience in bringing private financing structures to these projects provide us additional cost saving opportunities and rapid funding of the development costs to keep pace with very short development timelines.

How long does it take to build a school?

Every case is different and we pride ourselves on being able to deliver schools on schedule.

Red Apple is bringing private industry standards and competitiveness to the process. We are extremely focused and experienced in buying the land, minimizing change orders to the project, and anticipating future technology and school needs to the design process. All of this allows us to deliver on time.

You’ve been successful in converting big box stores to state-of-the-art schools. What is attractive about big box stores in terms of building schools?

In many densely populated neighborhoods, land is either very expensive or totally unavailable. A closed big box store provides an otherwise unavailable access point to those neighborhoods. Not only can we offer a new school for the community, but we re-purpose an otherwise dark building.

We’ve been very successful in converting former big box stores into vibrant academic environments. Because these former Target, K-Mart and grocery stores are so large, we are often able to include gymnasiums, large open classrooms and wide hallways.

When available, these buildings can be highly affordable and provide us a clean slate to develop top-of-the-line schools. When parents and students show up for class they often don’t realize that a store once operated in that area.

Do you see a high cost savings with redeveloping big box stores?

Actually, renovating a building is very similar in cost to building a new facility until you factor in the cost and availability of land in densely populated areas. To buy land in a highly populated area like Dade or Broward County, for example, would cost a fortune. However, if you find a former retailer sitting on a dark building, they are often motivated to sell. We may be able to acquire the entire package at a fraction of the cost.

Are there any safety concerns?

We are obligated to adhere to all life-safety codes just like any other public or commercial facility.

With accountability standards for charter schools, what happens when a charter school closes?

Every school that Charter Schools USA has managed for three years or more has earned an A, B or C grade. Our schools are extremely successful.

Red Apple is utilizing private money to build public schools—which is unique. In the worst-case scenario, if the property is no longer used as a charter school, than the public dollars are no longer tied up in the project.

This is different than what we typically see with schools across Florida and other areas of the country. In most cases, when a district school is outdated or closes down, the public is still required to pay for the facility. In our case, once a charter school ceases to exist or moves then the public is off the hook.

Many charter schools open in storefronts. Why has Red Apple created these big beautiful, full-sized charter schools? Wouldn’t a smaller school be more cost effective?

Actually the opposite is true.

We put students first in everything we do—including how we build our schools. We believe the actual building has a direct impact on the education of a child. Research has shown that students who are educated in a proper learning environment, that is safe and inviting, perform better.

Also, we are planning for growth and long-term success. Our sister company, Charter Schools USA, has been operating schools since 1997 and the demand today is higher than ever. Initially our schools were built for less than 1,000 kids. Today, we are building larger schools, to meet that demand, and planning for students to stay with us from Kindergarten through high school.

By providing a space that students can be proud of, they can achieve stronger results. We have created learning environments that make children more successful in the classroom. I would add that parents are more discerning today as well. They demand a safe and clean facility with modern technology that will allow their child to maximize their potential.

Can you give us an example of a school you have built that you are extremely proud of?

I am pleased anytime we are able to offer parents and students choice options in their community that didn’t exist before.

One example is close to our headquarters here in South Florida. The city of Homestead (near Miami) is an area where school options were limited. In most cases, students went to one of two high schools that had outdated facilities and struggled to maintain strong results. The parents were demanding school choice options and we developed Keys Gate Charter School in 2003 and Keys Gate Charter High School in 2010. Combined, those schools have more than 3,000 students enrolled.

From a facility standpoint, we were able to develop both schools at a lower cost than a traditional public school. From an education standpoint, both schools have over 90% satisfaction from parents and are performing well.

For more information on Red Apple Development visit their web site http://www.redappledevelopment.com

 

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