Bridges Prep to buy Boys & Girls Club site, build permanent school

sbowman@beaufortgazette.comDecember 18, 2013 

In this file photo, fifth-graders play a clapping game while waiting for school to let out at Bridges Preparatory School in Beaufort.

FILE — File photo

Bridges Preparatory School, which opened in temporary spaces this school year, is set to make the Beaufort Boys & Girls Club on Boundary Street its permanent home and expand its campus to adjacent land.

The Boys & Girls Club of the Lowcountry signed a purchase agreement this week with HighMark School Development for the 1.22-acre lot. HighMark -- a company that specializes in buying and redeveloping locations for charter schools -- bought the site on Bridges' behalf.

The building will be renovated for Bridges, which operates under a state charter and currently conducts classes in both the Boys & Girls Club building and at the Charles Lind Activity Center less than a mile away.

Chris Protz, executive director of the Boys & Girls Club of the Lowcountry, said he will not confirm the purchase price until the sale is final but said the school and club discussed a deal worth about $1 million. A 120-day due diligence period will allow both parties to settle details and acquire permits.

The deal is "a match made in heaven," according to Bridges board vice chairman Charlie Calvert. "It's just a true neighborhood school, and you don't see that too often anymore," he added.

The sale likely means the Beaufort club, which is part of the Boys & Girls Clubs of the Lowcountry, will operate without a physical home, Protz said.

WHAT'S NEXT FOR BRIDGES

Bridges opened in August and serves students in grades kindergarten through sixth grade. The school plans to add a grade per year, starting with seventh grade for the 2014-15 school year, until it serves students in kindergarten through twelfth grade.

However, it needs more space to do so.

HighMark will renovate the existing club building and convert it to offices, a gym, auditorium and cafeteria. The company also plans to build classrooms in a new building on land next door that is currently undeveloped.

Calvert said the school will be designed to fit the character of historic Beaufort, and should open in the spring of 2015. He said the building likely will be three stories -- the highest allowed in the city of Beaufort -- and have about 48 classrooms.

However, the school will not have a library or athletic fields.

"Our location lets us capitalize on amenities and services that are already in place, such as city parks, the county library and higher education institutions," Bridges board chairman John Payne said. "It's an exciting opportunity for us to grow."

Bridges also will begin working with the city and HighMark to find a nearby location for a high school building for grades nine through 12, to open in 2017.

Calvert said they hope renovations and construction can be completed on a budget of $5 million to $6 million.

Then within five years, Bridges will buy the school from HighMark. The value will be determined based on an appraisal of the property and the amount the company spent on the project.

HighMark has developed more than 30 charter schools around the country and currently has three projects under contract in South Carolina, according to Patrick Beausoleil, director of business development at HighMark.

This model allows charter schools to get new facilities early in their start-up years -- when they are unable to borrow money -- and gives them time to secure long-term funding after being open for three to five years, Calvert said.

"I believe this will be transformational for the city of Beaufort and our students," he said.

BOYS & GIRLS CLUB FUTURE

The club, which has struggled financially in recent years, first considered selling the property in mid-September. Protz said it was becoming apparent owning a building wasn't the best way to reach children in the Beaufort area. Utilities and maintenance alone totaled more than $80,000 a year, Protz said.

"There's an expense that owning a building has," Protz added. "But if you partner with someone else, like the school district or county who already have a building, then we can focus our costs on the programs and serving children."

The Boys & Girls Club has already started discussing partnerships with groups in the Beaufort area to maintain a presence in the community.

Follow reporter Sarah Bowman on Twitter at twitter.com/IPBG_Sarah.

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