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Education: Charter school gets $6 million federal loan

By Charles Swenson
Coastal Observer

The Coastal Montessori Charter School will receive a $6 million federal loan to buy and build on a campus between Hagley Estates and Allston Plantation. The charter board approved the agreement this week. It is scheduled to close on the 6.9 acres Oct. 1.

“We’re not going to spend all that money,” Rob Horvath, chairman of the charter school board, said. “We’re trying to keep that as low as possible.” The amount was based on the architect’s estimates of the building costs, plus “soft costs” estimated by the agency.

Nickie Toomes, the Rural Development area specialist, said the loan is one of 36 she’s handled this year. “We’re very impressed. We’re so excited about the school,” she said.

The community facility loans often go to charter schools because they can’t get conventional funding, Toomes said.

Coastal Montessori will get interim financing for construction, then Rural Development, an agency in the U.S. Department of Agriculture, will pay off that note. The school will pay either the prevailing interest rate or the current rate of 4 percent, whichever is lower. The term is 38 years, allowing a two-year cushion on the 40-year legal limit on loans.

The school’s contribution will be $300,000. Charter schools get public funds for operations, but not for construction.

Horvath and Kristin Bohan, the school’s founder, met this week with the architect, Steve Goggans, to continue work on the design. The school hopes to be in the new school by the beginning of 2016.

Coastal Montessori opened in 2012 in a vacant wing at Waccamaw Middle School. “Y’all have been a great tenant,” Superintendent Randy Dozier told the charter board this week. “I’m a believer in choice,” he said. “I don’t believe it’s impacted the district except to give students a choice.”

The Georgetown County Planning Commission will review a traffic report from the school today. That was a condition of changing the zoning to allow the 49,060-square-foot school in the Allston Plantation “planned development.” The site is currently zoned for commercial use.

The school site is scheduled to receive final approval from Georgetown County Council on Tuesday. Council gave the second of three readings to the plan last week over objections from some area residents who are concerned about the impact on traffic.

The traffic study prepared for the charter school shows it will generate 380 trips a day, based on 256 students in grades one through eight. The size of the school is limited by its charter agreement with the state and the Georgetown County School District. If developed for commercial use, the site would generate 800 trips a day.

The state Department of Transportation will require that the school install an acceleration lane on Highway 17 at Old Plantation Drive for traffic headed north. It also wants a right-turn lane at the Old Plantation intersection for southbound traffic. DOT requirements are part of the approval process for the school plan from the state Office of School Facilities. Although charter schools have their own governing boards and are exempt from some regulations, they are public schools and must meet state construction standards.

The DOT report says the school should contact the agency’s district traffic engineer to request caution lights on the highway that will flash during school hours. County Council has asked DOT to reduce the speed limit on that portion of Highway 17 from 60 to 45 mph once the school opens.

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