Saturday, April 19, 2014
PORTLAND -- Portland's first charter school is set to open on schedule next week with a temporary occupancy permit it received when its renovated building passed a city inspection Wednesday, after two previous failures.
The Baxter Academy for Technology and Science still must attend to some small items in the coming weeks at its 113-year-old building at 54 York St., said Portland Planning Director Jeff Levine.
But none of the items -- such as the installation of a bicycle rack and fixes to the building's sign -- is considered a "life safety" issue so the city issued the permit.
Two previous inspections of the building this month revealed fire code and electrical violations.
Baxter Academy is scheduled to open Wednesday with 135 ninth- and 10th-grade students.
"We're absolutely delighted," Executive Director Carl Stasio said. "We're very excited now about putting this behind us."
Stasio said teachers are setting up their classrooms and cleaning crews are going through the building to prepare for opening day. Ikea furniture will be delivered early next week, he said.
The students will spend their first day of school on a field trip at Fort Williams Park in Cape Elizabeth -- and assemble the furniture as a class project on the second day.
"We're thrilled," said Baxter Academy board Chairwoman Kelli Pryor, noting that teachers have been in the building doing professional development work in recent days.
Baxter Academy is leasing the building from Rufus Deering Co. The contractor for the renovation is Dan LaBrie, a senior vice president of Rufus Deering.
The city did two inspections Wednesday, one for the building and one for improvements outside, including new sidewalks, striping in nearby intersections, curb cuts for handicapped access and new landscaping.
It waived several of the usual requirements for striping and sidewalks along the entire block because of the nature of the site.
The block, which mostly houses the Rufus Deering lumber yard, is larger than a typical city block and has an odd, oblong shape because of the angle of York Street.
The new sidewalk runs along part of Maple Street, where parents will pick up and drop off children. Previously, the brick sidewalk on Maple Street ended about halfway down the block toward Commercial Street.
Developers routinely are required to make street and sidewalk improvements near their property.
The Maine Charter School Commission approved Baxter Academy's charter in May. Commission members and school officials have said in recent weeks that the relatively late approval of an occupancy permit put the school at a disadvantage for meeting certain deadlines.
Baxter Academy's charter says the school must complete all required renovations 30 days before the start of the school year and have a certificate of occupancy at least 15 days before opening. That language is in contracts for all of Maine's charter schools.
The commission waived those deadlines for Baxter.
The school has been under scrutiny since March, when the board fired the school's founder and executive director. That led to new donor financing, legal disputes and calls for a state investigation.
Charter schools are a partisan issue in Maine, strongly backed by Gov. Paul LePage and conservative groups and opposed by some legislators and others who want to protect funding for traditional public schools.
Maine has a limit of 10 charter schools.
Two have opened and three more are scheduled to open this school year.
Charter schools get per-pupil state funds, which follow students from the school districts where they live.