For years, Shining Rock Classical Academy — Haywood County’s only charter school — has been searching for a place to build a larger, permanent school facility.
It looks like that dream will finally come true.
During its June board meeting, the Shining Rock governing board unanimously approved an architectural design and a preliminary budget to build a new 13-acre school in Waynesville not far from its current school location.
The proposed $14.9 million facility will be in a rural setting bordered on the west by Russ Avenue, north by Jule Noland Drive and south by Maple Grove Church Road.
The site is the same one selected in the fall of 2019 by previous partner Schoolhouse Development LLC, which was proposing to build a 625-student facility at a cost of $13.4 million. Those plans were shelved once the school year started and enrollment plummeted from the 428 students who signed up to 301 on the first day of school.
Although the site is the same, the amount of land being purchased went about 6 acres to nearly 14 acres.
The current design and budget proposal came from the school’s design-build partner, BC Construction Group (BCCG). The group has been searching for available property and conducting feasibility studies for a new school building since April, when SRCA entered into contract with them.
According to the architectural design, the new school would take up about 48,000 square feet and will have a two-story layout, a full-size gymnasium, a stage and outdoor instructional spaces on-site.
“The amount of work that they have completed to reach this preliminary step is impressive,” Head of School Joshua Morgan said about the BCCG design team.
SRCA’s current campus on Dellwood Road is only big enough to hold 400 students, and this new facility would have a 650-student capacity. Having a larger school will provide the opportunity for the school to grow in size and eventually expand to offer high school grades.
“This is very exciting and provides our school with the space to grow and meet the needs of our community,” said SRCA board chair Michelle Haynes.
SRCA board vice chair Mike Mehaffey has been in communication with BC Construction Group design team as they have mulled feasible locations in Waynesville.
“They’re taking the best piece of property available for all the years we’ve been looking,” Mehaffey said about BCCG. “They have spent a lot of time figuring out a way make it work in a way we could afford. I think it fulfills what the school needs; it’s something we can afford as long as we do our business well.”
BCCG’s development plan projects a December groundbreaking, with the school ready to open in the fall of 2021.
In partnership with Shining Rock and BCCG, Performance Charter School Development — a national real estate firm — will fully fund and finance the $14.9 million construction project from beginning to end. Shining Rock will begin payments until the school is complete and operating in 2021.
Payments will include an 8 percent interest rate that will increase 0.20 percent each year until SRCA is able to purchase the building through a conventional loan.
Morgan said the school intends to secure a USDA funding or look at the bond market to purchase the building by the year 2022-23 school year.
“We want to secure long-term funding to get a lower interest rate,” Morgan said.
Until the school gets a loan, a lot of the school’s incoming revenue to repay the debt will come from the state allocation to public schools to cover education costs.
That allocation is based on the number of students enrolled each year, so SRCA’s projected budget over the next four years heavily depends on how many students will enroll each year.
Morgan said the school was anticipating very significant growth in enrollment this fall and over the next four years as the school expands into high school grades and attracts more attention.
SRCA finished the school year with an enrollment of 309 this past spring and the new budget anticipates that the student enrollment this coming fall is expected grow to 370 students.
If SRCA has 370 students in the fall, the school would receive about $3.4 million in revenue.
Though it seems like a bit of a jump, Morgan has full confidence that the enrollment will be able to grow from 309 to 370 this fall and continue to grow over the years.
By the school year 2021-22, when the new school building is scheduled to open, SRCA expects to have an enrollment of 500 students at the new school, which will bring in about $4.5 million in revenue.
By the year 2022-23, SRCA is aiming to have an enrollment of 650 students, which would bring the new school to full capacity — and that would bring in $5.9 in revenue.
“This budget is very clear-eyed because all those numbers are realistic,” Morgan said, adding that the school has become more engaging, and more academically proficient in the last year, which will help increase enrollment. “Hitting 500 students is our target but if we add ninth grade for example, that puts us in a position to where anything over 500 students means we are adding revenue that we will be able to apply to the debt.”
Morgan also noted that the average sustainable growth rate for charter schools is enrolling 10 percent of the public school student population.
When looking at the entire K-8 student population in Haywood County, Morgan said 10 percent would be right around 600 students, which is right at the school’s total goal for enrollment.
“I feel very confident that it’s a very realistic measure,” Morgan said about the projected budget.
Chad Carver, who serves as the chair of SRCA’s Finance Committee, said he agreed with Morgan.
“It comes down to what we can do to increase enrollment and we are on that path already,” said Carver. “We are already better than where we were a year ago. I think we owe it to our community to take a risk. It’s a risk to do this but it is what this board and the school has always planned to do — have a permanent facility. I think it’s a risk worth taking.”
For the upcoming school year that starts Aug. 5, SRCA has a projected enrollment of 370 students.
So far, the largest grade is kindergarten with 55 students enrolled and the smallest grade being 8th grade with 38 students. Morgan said the average class size across the school is 20 students per classroom.
Enrollment for the next school year remains open, with the most availability being in the middle grades with nine to 11 seats available in each grade and the fewest seats being in 3rd grade with only one seat available. Currently, no grades have a waiting list.
The enrollment levels and return rates of students in grades 3 and 6 have created unique challenges for the school.
“This is the summer of having back-up plans for everything,” Morgan said, adding that he has a couple of plans to add classrooms in third or sixth grade to accommodate increased interest. “We have a very high percentage of returning students from last year, which speaks to the satisfaction of our parents in both our traditional and distance learning from the previous school year.”
The limiting factor increasing the school’s capacity is classroom space, Morgan said. With the addition of a third kindergarten class and electives that include Spanish, music, and drama being taught to all students each week, space is now at a premium.
“I have one available classroom for an additional homeroom and we can adjust for one year to create a second,” Morgan said.