The students attending Imagine Andrews Public Charter School have settled in for the new school year. The building is bustling with teachers and parents, cheerily decorated and working on a familiar schedule after just a few days of school. You'd never know it's about to undergo a big change, were it not for the equally busy construction zone just yards away.
Last year, the school launched in its current building, a temporary facility constructed over the course of a few months and leased from Clark Realty Capital as part of its agreement with Joint Base Andrews on the Liberty Park at Andrews housing facilities. The school originally taught approximately 265 students in kindergarten through fourth grade.
From the start, the current was destined to be only a temporary home for the school, which now includes 315 students in kindergarten through fifth grade. If weather and other factors continue to cooperate, Imagine Andrews will soon be moving to its new facility, perhaps as early as Thanksgiving break.
"It really took that long to get the financing and legalities of the lease for the full building lined up, but there building was a great demand (to open a school as soon as possible)," said Imagine Schools - Maryland Region Facilities Manager David Miller. Imagine Andrews is the county's first newly constructed charter school; the rest of the county's charter schools have been installed in renovated existing school buildings.
The two-phase construction project allowed for an earlier opening, but not without some challenges.
For now, the school has a few work-arounds in place that ensure a full range of services is provided even in a small and temporary space: students eat lunch at their desks, and do most of their physical education activities outside, as there is no large multipurpose room in the current facility. The current school building is expected to transition to be used for office space after the move.
Imagine Andrews will add a new grade each year, until eventually capping its enrollment at approximately 450 students in kindergarten through eighth grade. The new building, currently under construction, will be leased from the Imagine Charter School Development Group. The building will feature 18 classrooms; an 8,000 sq. ft. multipurpose room for assemblies, meals, and physical education and a "warming kitchen" to prepare food delivered by the Prince George's County Public Schools food service department all on a single story, making the facility both easy to manage after construction and quick to build. Construction of the 37,000 sq. ft. building on approximately seven acres of land is projected to cost approximately $5.9 million.
"We'll grow into the school building," said Miller.
Miller cites strong relationships with Joint Base Andrews leadership for making the permitting and inspection process a smooth one. Using precast concrete walls and other construction-speeding design elements such as its slab-on-grade foundation has also helped to keep the school's construction on time and on budget.
"We're right where we want to be," said Bouma Corp. Construction Manager Dennis O'Neil, who indicated that some aspects of construction have been intentionally delayed. "Sidewalks were supposed to go in this week, but we'd bust 'em all up driving on them, so we put them off for convenience' sake."
Though some school districts put a heavy emphasis on "green" technologies for new construction, Miller said that Imagine Andrews will have few of those features.
"The base did not require it, and we wanted to make it as affordable as possible," Miller said.
Bouma Construction is a Grand Rapids, Mich.-based company which mainly builds schools and extended care facilities. Subcontractors and laborers on the Imagine Andrews project include local Washington, D.C.-area businesses as well as crews from Florida and North Carolina. Local companies have done most of the building's painting, flooring, roofing and landscaping work. With construction expected to be complete by mid-November, Miller anticipates the school will move into its new facilities over either the Thanksgiving or Christmas breaks.
"So far, things are within budget, with a couple of tiny changes," said Miller.
Already, Imagine Andrews is building a reputation for quality education, even in a temporary space. Last year, Miller said, the school was named Best New School and Best Improved New School by the Imagine national organization.
"We think it's a model we hope could be replicated on other bases," said Miller. "More than ever, families are living on and around bases that could use a good resource, educationally."