By Lynne Hendricks Correspondent
Newburyport Daily News
---- — NEWBURYPORT — After looking around to purchase a permanent school site for several years, the River Valley Charter School Board of Trustees has decided there’s no place like home.
Instead of looking outside Newburyport, where the school has been based for 11 years, or seeking a larger building within city limits, which has been discussed in the past, the trustees have decided to proceed with a plan to purchase their current building at 2 Perry Way, which they currently lease from Norman Day.
Board President Dana Lowell said the trustees hope to complete the sale by the end of the year. Although there’s no purchase and sales agreement inked, Lowell said the board is fairly far along in the process.
“It’s something we’ve been pursuing for a little while now and we’re hoping it’s going to come to fruition,” Lowell said. “We’ve embarked on a process looking at financing — obviously, we need financing. We’re negotiating with the landlord, doing due diligence related to building condition.”
Finding a permanent site to purchase has been on the River Valley Charter School’s radar for some time. Site committees charged with looking at possible homes in Amesbury and Newbury have been set up in recent years.
“We’ve had three different site committees looking at other properties and this is the first time they’ve considered purchasing this one,” River Valley Charter School Director Jeanne Schultz said.
Lowell said his board has been unable to identify another site in a community where it wanted to be located that was appropriate for the school’s purposes and met its affordability criteria. And at the end of the day, he said the trustees have always wanted to find a way to stay in Newburyport.
Launched in 1999, the school serves students from Amesbury, Newbury, Newburyport, Salisbury and West Newbury.
“From the beginning, it was felt Newburyport was the center of the five towns and there was a desire to stay here,” Lowell said. “We feel we have strong roots in the community.”
Now, several factors have come together that make for an ideal time to act on the 32,000-square-foot Newburyport property.
In recent years, the school has added a gymnasium, art room and library onto the building and the school community is now satisfied the space is large enough to satisfy students’ needs.
“This site was chosen because it was expeditious,” Lowell said. “When it was first built, the facility was a little small, ultimately, for where the school (has expanded). But now we’re at maximum enrollment and we don’t expect to be expanding anymore.
“It may not have everything we want to have — it could be bigger and have a bigger outdoor space— but (they determined) the school is big enough for us. The board determined it was the best financial option for us, and that continuing to look for another site wasn’t in the cards financially.”
Lowell said trustees also feel the time is right, economically, to take advantage of low interest rates available to public entities. The Newburyport site is currently valued by the city tax assessor at $2,617,500. Lowell declined to provide specifics on the purchase price being discussed.
“Fortunately, in this current environment, we were able to identify a bank that will be willing to loan us a very large percentage of the value of the property,” Lowell said. “Potentially, we are pursuing financing that will be based on tax-exempt bond financing with Mass Development. They have various programs to help public entities with financing activities.”
The purchase itself will be formally made by the River Valley Charter School Foundation, with the school then leasing the space from the foundation.
Lowell hesitated to make a formal announcement about the purchase, saying the board is still awaiting a formal commitment letter from the bank. “It’s not a done deal,” he said.
The Board of Trustees is scheduled to discuss and formally approve the purchase of the building at its meeting today at 7 p.m. at the school.
“Formally, we’ve taken votes to keep pursuing this, but now we have to make the final decision,” Lowell said. “The technical vote will be to agree to lease the school from the foundation once they have purchased it. The foundation will have to take votes around the actual purchase of the facility.”
Ultimately, Lowell expects the deal will make good economic sense for River Valley.
“From the beginning, we’ve always had expenses related to building,” Lowell said. “Our expectation is that our cost of ownership is actually going to go down with the purchase.”
He is confident the property will serve the school well into the future.
“We have a very strong wait list and we’ve had two charter renewals, which means we will continue to have charter renewals and the school is going to exist for a long time,” he said.