After an agreement with a Utah-based consulting firm to purchase and construct a permanent home for Bridges Preparatory School fell through, the public charter school is going it alone.
But HighMark School Development -- a company that specializes in buying and redeveloping locations for charter schools -- said it did not significantly increase the project's costs, contrary to claims in a Bridges Prep news release Tuesday announcing its pending purchase of the Beaufort Boys & Girls Club.
Bridges board chairman John Payne said a letter of intent signed in January outlined two phases to be completed by HighMark for a total of $6 million.
In the first phase, the company would purchase the club's building and property so Bridges could create a campus for kindergarten through eighth grade. Bridges currently leases the club and holds classes at the building and at the Charles Lind Brown Center.
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The second phase was to construct a high school campus at a site that had not yet been determined, Payne said.
Bridges would lease the property from HighMark until it was able to purchase the property, paying off HighMark's investment with interest.
But the final agreement presented May 13 by HighMark included only the first phase for the full $6 million, according to Payne.
"So basically we were getting half the school for the same price," he said. "So it came down to having a very nice building or having more advanced academics in our school, and we chose academics."
However, HighMark vice president of marketing Mark Skousen said the second phase was never included in the $6 million underwriting package, but would have been negotiated at a later date.
HighMark director of business development Patrick Beausoleil acknowledged there had been a $250,000 increase in the price agreed upon in the letter of intent. However, that increase was the result of Bridges choosing specific features, and the increases were communicated to the board, he said.
Neither Payne, Beausoleil nor Skousen responded to a request Wednesday to provide a copy of the letter of intent and lease agreement.
Beausoleil said that even if the Bridges board had not decided May 15 to back out of its agreement, HighMark would not have been able to close on the property at 1100 Boundary St. because the school's most recent budget included more than $500,000 in new expenses that his company had not seen before. HighMark could not have underwritten the purchase until those figures were explained, Beausoleil added.
Payne acknowledged that Bridges hired some new staff members, started an athletics program and gave teachers a raise, which increased expenses.
"That is a prime example of how we are prioritizing academics over a facility," Payne said.
With HighMark no longer in the picture, Bridges announced Tuesday it is purchasing the club and adjacent property -- about 1.22 acres -- to expand its campus.
The Boys & Girls Club will finance the purchase. Attempts Wednesday to reach Boys & Girls Club of the Lowcountry director Chris Protz were unsuccessful.
Payne said he could not release any specific numbers on the purchase price, down payment or interest rates until the sale closes July 1. Bridges will then begin seeking funding, both public and private, to complete the building expansion.
"We will eventually build out on that property," Payne said. "But it will take a little longer to do it."
Follow reporter Sarah Bowman on Twitter at twitter.com/IPBG_Sarah.