RED BANK: CHARTER SCHOOL TO BUY BUILDING

The building, in which the charter school now rents space, has several commercial tenants, and another slated to take the retail space formerly leased by Prown’s Home Improvements. (Photo by John T. Ward. Click to enlarge)

By JOHN T. WARD

The Red Bank Charter School plans to buy a commercial building that adjoins its Oakland Street home under a plan approved by the school’s board of trustees Tuesday night.

The red back wall of the building to be acquired abuts the charter school property. Below, a concept drawing of a gym to be built there. (Photo by John T. Ward; rendering by Erick Wagner. Click to enlarge)

The board approved a purchase agreement under which the school would pay $1.725 million for 135-137 Monmouth Street, a tenanted retail and office structure where it already rents space for its Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) lab.

Superintendent Meredith Pennotti said warehouse space in the building would be turned into a gymnasium, ending the 20-year-old school’s reliance on remote locations to provide physical education and recreation to it 200 students.

“We’re outside until children’s breath is showing,” when students are transported to various borrowed facilities, including St. Anthony of Padua, the Community YMCA and Monmouth University, Pennotti said. “Who would have thought that building would become available right behind us?”

The deal will also allow for the creation of an art room and performing space, the school said in a press release.

In the process, the school will become a landlord, turning a $3,800-per-month expense into a revenue source, Pennotti told redbankgreen. Existing office tenants, including a language school and an employment agency, would remain, and the building’s storefront, formerly occupied by Prown’s Home Improvements, was leased recently to a frame shop, she said.

“We’ll be a landlord, like a lot of charters,” Pennotti said. “That’s how we survive.”

A Loopnet commercial real estate listing for the building indicated that it contains 8,000 square feet, including 2,250 SF of retail space. Monmouth County property records show that it is owned by A.C.S. Monmouth Associates LLC, with an Ocean Township mailing address, and assessed at $1.14 million.

The acquisition, Pennotti said, should not be taken as a sign that the school is reviving its effort, launched in late 2015, to double its enrollment, a campaign that was fiercely opposed by the borough school district. The New Jersey Department of Education rejected the plan in February, 2016.

“We are only expanding our facilities, not our enrollment,” Pennotti said. “Our goal is to have a gym, a gym we can walk to.”

Local schools Superintendent Jared Rumage told redbankgreen shortly before the district’s board of ed met Tuesday night that he was unaware of the charter school’s acquisition plan and declined comment.

But parent Jill Burden, a member of Fair Schools Red Bank, which is battling the charter school in court over alleged segregation of school-aged children in the borough, expressed doubt during the meeting’s public comment session that the charter school wasn’t preparing for another enrollment expansion push.

“I don’t believe that,” she told the board. “Our children are $7 million underfunded, and we don’t even have money to make repairs to our building. And they bought the Prown building? It is unfair. It is unjust.”

She urged the district to join in a federal lawsuit that Fair Schools Red Bank and the Latino Coalition of New Jersey are pursuing along with the ACLU of New Jersey to force a closure of the charter school.

Pennotti said the charter school has a business plan and financing lined up, with funds set aside for a down payment for the acquisition. Charter schools in New Jersey are not permitted to use taxpayer funding for property acquisition, she said, and so the school has been “frugal,” saving up for the day that it might have an opportunity to build a gym.

A capital campaign is planned, though the purchase is not dependent on it, she said.