NewburyportNews.com, Newburyport, MA

Local News

March 21, 2014

Salem Charter school plans new buildings

SALEM — The Salem Academy Charter School, following its 10-year anniversary, is about to launch an expansion.

“We have been planning it over a year,” says executive director Sean O’Neil. “And it’s in the design phase.”

While many charter schools have won support through academic prowess, the weak link has always been the state of their facilities. School officials often have needed to transform existing buildings, sometimes warehouses or office spaces, into schools. Salem Academy, which serves 372 students in grades six to 12, operates out of Shetland Park, but without some of what traditional public schools take for granted, including a gym and an auditorium.

The proposed expansion would provide precisely those spaces, along with some additional classrooms. The entire yet-to-be constructed, $2.5 million, 15,000-square-foot building would be devoted to athletics and the arts.

“We’ve been 10 years without a gymnasium,” O’Neil said. “Luckily, we’ve had a good relationship with the Boys and Girls Clubs.” Students have gone there to play basketball and have gym classes. “But that’s two blocks away, and the kids have to walk, which takes away from class time. ... We don’t have anything near the ‘Taj Mahal’ facilities the district schools have.”

On the other hand, Salem Academy does have high expectations academically, he said.

The new building opens up possibilities for new programs like volleyball and amenities like locker rooms. Additionally, comes a space for artwork and music. The gym, as proposed, can be transformed for assemblies or to mount theatrical performances on a stage that can be opened when needed.

The building is being designed at no charge by one of the school’s longtime supporters, Mark Meche of Winter Street Architects in Salem. While it won’t be contiguous with the current school, the building will be within easy walking distance down Pingree Street.

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