Chandler Preparatory Academy may be one of the best performing schools in Arizona, but this year its high school students are taking their classes in a former movie theater complex in the East Valley Mall.
An interior awning still proclaims “box office,” and the film projectors are locked away upstairs. The concession area has been turned into a cafeteria, and students listen to lectures while sitting in stadium seating overlooked by large movie screens.
However, the Chandler City Council Thursday began clearing the way for the nonprofit, public charter school to move into its own campus next year — an unoccupied commercial building just down the street, on the southeast corner of Warner and Alma School roads.
“It’s a place that you can really call your own,” said Wayne Porter, the academy’s middle school director, of the new location. “It is going to be the facility that will meet our needs.”
This year is the school’s fifth year in the mall, on the northwest corner of Arizona Avenue and Warner Road. It began in a large space formerly occupied by a construction supply firm, Porter said.
The school has about 550 students, but this is the first year that about half of them — the high school students — were moved into the movie theaters, he said. It’s also the first year the school, which serves students in sixth through 12th grade, plans to have a graduating class of seniors.
Porter said the school is hoping to move into its new, 10-acre campus in time to begin classes there next August. The existing 104,000-square-foot building originally was constructed as a Smitty’s grocery store.
The new site, once it’s renovated, is expected to include new landscaping and fencing, playgrounds, an outdoor sports field with bleachers and a gymnasium — things for which the school now has no space.
Upon moving, the school plans to expand to include classes from kindergarten through 12th grade. It’s expected to grow to more than 1,000 students over the next four years, Porter said.
Chandler Preparatory Academy is one of a series of college prep schools across the Valley belonging to Great Hearts Academies.
Like the group’s other schools, which includes Veritas, Scottsdale, Glendale, Teleos and Tempe preparatory academies, the Chandler branch is a charter school that relies on state funding. Students are selected for the school through a lottery.
“We can’t pick and choose. We’re open to everyone,” Porter said.
The school is co-ed, and students wear uniforms. The average class size is 22 students. It’s considered a “great books” school and consistently is one of the state’s top performing schools, Porter said.
“We base our curriculum on a lot of the great thinking and literature that influenced the Western culture,” he said.
The academy received a permit Thursday from the City Council to override the new site’s community commercial zoning, allowing it to host high school classes there, according to a report from Kevin Mayo, a senior city planner.
Most recently, the building was owned by Bank First and used as a call center.
The traffic generated by parents dropping off and picking up their children twice a day is expected to give businesses on the other three corners of the intersection a “shot in the arm,” Mayo said.