Nitro Preparatory Academy is planned to be among West Virginia’s first charter schools, but its intended location has fallen through and its leaders have yet to name a new site.
“We’re looking at a couple other locations and we’ll know more next week,” said Courtney Harritt, spokeswoman for Accel Schools, the company that plans to run the school.
At an online meeting of the school’s board Tuesday night, Chad Carr with Accel Schools said, “I have some very promising leads that I will be viewing on Tuesday.”
“It would bring students from two different areas and an area that’s not very strong with schools, and then it would also give us — it would put the school in very good financial standing,” Carr said.
He said he didn’t want to say too much, but said the locations are still in Kanawha County.
Gov. Jim Justice signed into law March 30 legislation extending opening deadlines for charters.
But even that extension requires “the primary round of public charter school student enrollment applications, lottery and enrollment” to be done about a month from now. The lottery is the mostly random selection process charters must use to choose students, if more families apply than there is space available.
Charters are publicly funded institutions that are nonetheless freed from many state personnel laws and other public school rules. They can be entirely overseen by unelected boards and private management companies.
Accel, part of private international company Pansophic Learning, was planning to run three of the state’s first five approved charters. Accel has its other two listed on its website, but not Nitro Preparatory Academy.
The K-8 charter was planning to open in the old Nitro High School building. That vacant structure is right next to Nitro Elementary and a seven-minute drive from Rock Branch Elementary, one of West Virginia’s three 2021 National Blue Ribbon Schools.
Christopher Anderson, board chairman for the proposed school, wrote in an email Tuesday that “a number of issues arose [e.g. frozen pipe/water leak damage, HVAC system, and some permitting issues] that — in total — make using that location for this fall as impossible.” HVAC stands for heating, ventilation and air-conditioning.
“Our board and Accel [Schools] have been exploring other locations in Kanawha County but have not yet chosen either a temporary or permanent location,” Anderson wrote. “At this point, nothing is off the table.”
Cassie Miller, another board member, said a water pipe broke in the building over the winter, significantly delaying work. She also noted an issue with the city of Nitro’s parking requirements.
For schools, the city requires an off-street parking space for every 31/2 “seats in classrooms,” plus one per every employee.
Kim Reed, Nitro’s city planner and zoning official, said the city’s Board of Zoning Appeals can approve variances. She said she gave the charter the form to apply for a variance around Feb. 1, but the charter never applied.
She said Tuesday the old Nitro High School has nine spaces, but the charter would need over 100 without a variance. The charter’s application said it planned to serve 600 students at full capacity.
Harritt said the location didn’t work because of the required number of parking spots per student. She noted that K-8 students don’t drive. Harritt confirmed that Accel did not apply for the variance, saying it didn’t seem like it would be able to meet the parking demands.
Nitro Mayor Dave Casebolt said Monday he didn’t know what the latest was on the school.
“We’re in the dark, like you,” he said.
The former Nitro High building has housed a church and other entities since the school moved.
On Monday, children played on Nitro Elementary’s playground. Across from them were abandoned toy trucks in a silent gravel playground at the former high school building.