Giving the Chandler Preparatory Academy charter school a quarter of a million dollars in city funds to spruce up and move into a vacant north Chandler commercial building will encourage area redevelopment and bring in new sales tax revenue, city officials say.
The Chandler City Council Thursday was slated to vote on awarding the public, nonprofit charter school $250,000 in "infill incentive" funds. The money is about half the amount the school needs to renovate the exterior of the 104,000-square-foot former Smitty's grocery store building on the southeast corner of Alma School and Warner roads.
All told, Chandler Preparatory's parent group, Great Hearts Academies, plans to spend more than $9 million to move the school from its existing location in the East Valley Mall, on the northwest corner of Arizona Avenue and Warner Road, to the new site, which has been vacant for nearly three years, said James Smith, a Chandler economic development specialist.
The move will allow the school to expand its capacity from 550 students to 1,070. The increased activity associated with the school is expected to benefit the surrounding retailers at the Alma School/Warner intersection, Smith said.
"People are coming to this activity center and will bring life to the remaining retail," he said.
The large size of the vacant building into which the school will move has presented an obstacle for retailers, Smith said.
"We didn't really feel the building had a life as a traditional retail building," he said.
Chandler has about $3 million set aside in a fund earmarked for supporting infill development projects, he said. The program is intended to encourage redevelopment and reinvestment in existing retail centers older than 15 years and those that are exhibiting high vacancy rates.
Smith said about 60 percent of Chandler Preparatory's students live outside Chandler, meaning they and their parents could bring new sales tax dollars to the city. The attention could help revitalize the immediate surrounding area, he said.
The school, one of the best-performing in Arizona, has had to expand into a former movie theater complex in the East Valley Mall in search of space for high school students. The co-ed school relies on state funding, and students are selected for the school through a lottery.
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. The school also plans to expand to include classes from kindergarten through 12th grade. The new site is expected to open for classes in fall 2010, Smith said.
In September, the academy received a permit from the City Council to override the new site's community commercial zoning, allowing it to host high school classes there.