By Ron Leir
After a three-year sojourn across the county line, Lady Liberty Academy is going home. The Newark charter school, which was forced to leave its original location on Pennsylvania Ave. after failing to come to terms with its landlord, migrated across the Passaic River to Harrison.
Beginning in fall 2011, it rented space in the former Holy Cross Parish School on Frank E. Rodgers Blvd. South in Harrison where it has remained since.
Now, however, with its lease due to expire July 31, Lady Liberty Executive Director Glen Pinder said the school is ready to return to the Brick City to occupy a 25,000 square foot modular addition to an existing school building on Sanford Ave. in the Vailsburg/Ivy Hill section.
Build with Purpose, a non-profit real estate development and consulting firm based in Metuchen, is the owner and developer of the new school site. The company’s website says BWP is a “national leader in charter school facility development.”
BWP says the $10.5 million Lady Liberty project, featuring 27 modular classroom units, represents the 26th charter school it has developed. This one, BWP says, has financing from Royal Bank of Canada and tax-exempt bonds issued by N.J. Economic Development Authority.
Lady Liberty has “engaged in a long-term lease” with the developer, Pinder said. According to BWP, the deal calls for a 30-year lease with an option to purchase at any time.
Steel River Building Systems of Pottstown, Pa. is the manufacturer of the modular units and Gluck+ of New York is the architect and construction manager. BWP says the project also includes the gut rehabilitation of the neglected St. John’s Ukrainian School on the corner of Ivy St. and Sanford Ave., next to the new school building.
Pinder said the new facility will afford Lady Liberty some room to grow in the future. At the Harrison site, It currently serves 468 children in kindergarten to grade 8 but, with its new digs, “we could fit an additional 50, at most,” he said.
“We will move in Aug. 1,” Pinder said. “We’re very excited about it.” Being back in Newark “is going to help us with academics and with our after-school program where we should get more participation. Being out of the [Newark school] district creates a strain on everybody. Now we’ll have a home.”
The only drawback, as seen by Pinder, will be that “the new building doesn’t have as much closet space as we have in Harrison but we knew about that going into the project so staff will have to adjust.”
Looking back over the school’s 3-year stay in Harrison, Pinder said, “The first year was extremely difficult. We had to take a step back. We lost a lot of kids. We had to bring in new students. But our last two years have been better. It’s a matter of adjusting to your new environment, timing and traffic.”
But, through it all, Pinder said, “the town of Harrison has been great to us. The former mayor [Raymond McDonough, who died earlier this year] and the Harrison schools superintendent [James Doran] were very supportive, for example, making sure we had crossing guards.”
Additionally, Pinder said, the local police and firefighters “were extremely responsible on all things. If we called them on a particular issue, they’d show right up. They were professional. They’d help us troubleshoot the problem, whether it was fire alarms or a complaint from a parent. They gave us the use of a soccer field and playground. They treated us as if we were an actual Harrison [public] school. If we could take our present situation and put it in Newark, we’d have kept it as is. We want to thank the Harrison community for being excellent hosts.”
As for student performance, Pinder said the school “took a dip our first year – an implementation dip – but last year we had moderate growth and this year, after testing is completed, we should see more growth.” Lady Liberty will be field-testing the state’s new PARCC (Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers] exam before the end of the school year, he said.
Overall, Pinder said, “I’m very proud of accomplishments we’ve had in our last five years. It’s been slow growth but at least it’s been growth.”
In its new setting, Lady Liberty will become what Pinder characterized as “part of the One Newark centralized enrollment process.”
The Rev. Joseph Girone, pastor of Holy Cross Church, said the parish is exploring other possible tenants for the former school building.