Opening of Laurel contract school delayed

A lack of funds and difficulty obtaining permits on the part of the developer has delayed the opening date for the new Monarch Global Academy Public Contract School in Laurel.

At a community meeting at the Maryland City Volunteer Fire Department Tuesday night, Pat Crain, senior manager of charter schools for Anne Arundel County Public Schools, said the school's opening was being pushed back until August 2014 — a year later than initially planned — because developer Palm Cos. is having difficulty securing financing and building permits for the school, which is supposed to be built on 8.4 acres on Brock Bridge Road, on the site of the old Moose Lodge.

The Monarch school will be operated by the nonprofit Children's Guild Institute, which has two other schools in the Baltimore area. It will be an International Baccalaureate school, with a special international studies curriculum.

But difficulties with Palm Cos. has delayed the ground-breaking. A contract between the school system and Monarch was signed in June, but in July, Monarch and the schools added an amendment to the contract specifying that if the school wasn't developed by August 2013, Monarch and the schools would work collaboratively to find another solution.

That amendment was added when it looked like "the wheels were starting to fall off" the project, said Kathy Lane, director of alternative education for the school system, and a month later, it became clear Palm Cos. was having difficulty securing money from its lenders. The school will cost about $16.5 million, Crain said. Monarch does not have a contract with Palm Cos., said Gladys Graham, chief operating officer of charter schools for the Children's Guild Inc.

Graham said Monarch would be looking at any and all options when it comes to opening up the school, and though she declined to name specifics, said the group was meeting with other developers to try to move forward. Both she and Crain said the school system and Monarch were still fully committed to opening the school.

"The proof is in the pudding," Crain told the audience at Tuesday's meeting. "When there's shovels in the ground and dirt being moved, that's going to give you the confidence to know that the school is going to open, and we're hoping we can provide the for you."

Palm Cos. owns the property where the school would be built, and was the developer for another contract school set for the site several years ago. That plan fell through. Like last time, the current planned school would draw students from Maryland City, Brock Bridge and Jessup elementary schools to relieve over-crowding.

A temporary site for the school isn't a viable option at this point, Crain said, because no permanent financing has been secured, and not enough students have signed up for the lottery. The school needs at least 435 students for a lottery to open a K-5 school (in subsequent years, 6th, 7th, and 8th grades would be filled), and only 130 have signed up so far.

If enrollment is opened up to the rest of the county, Crain said, that would jeopardize the seats for Brock Bridge, Jessup and Maryland City students.

After the meeting, Crain said the school system and Monarch expected more families would sign up for the lottery once the school's future was more definite. In the meantime, Graham encouraged families to explore options at one of Monarch's other locations, in Glen Burnie.

The deadline to apply for charter and contract schools in the county is Friday, Dec. 14 at noon.

About 50 people attended the meeting, and many parents were frustrated by the announcement.

Euryka Sloan, whose youngest son is a fourth-grader at Maryland City Elementary, said that now her son may miss out on attending the Monarch school. Sloan said she's been hearing about the Monarch school since her oldest, a seventh-grader, was at the elementary level, and now, more waiting is in store.

Tonia Parham is in the same situation — she wanted her fourth-grader to attend the school as well, and her first reaction to hearing the news was "here we go again."

"It blows my mind," she said. "We wanted him to have more one-on-one attention, more student-teacher interaction. This whole meeting just burst my bubble."

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