A small charter school in Hamden plans to relocate to New Haven’s Science Park—and become a bigger school.
The school, Highville Charter School, currently serves 360 kids in grades pre-K to 9 in a rented space on Hamden’s Leeder Hill Drive. The move to Science Park would allow help accommodate a planned expansion into the high school grades.
The school is in negotiations with AT&T about moving the school into a former AT&T office building at One Science Park/ 300 Mansfield St. as soon as fall 2014 or fall 2015, according to Highville executive director Craig Drezek.
The building (pictured) abuts Science Park, which has transformed the old Winchester Repeating Arms factory into a high-tech incubator for new businesses. Science Park is home to Yale labs, small businesses, and the homegrown financial services firm Higher One.
“Our goal is to get there,” Drezek said. “Now we’re in the process of trying to obtain a contract.”
Drezek said the move comes for two reasons: First, the school’s current space is not ideal. “We don’t own the building. We’re constantly renting, and paying for improvements to the building” that the school won’t necessarily benefit from in the long term. Second, Drezek said, the school aims to expand to a teach pre-K to 12th grade.
The charter school was born in 2007 out of the Highville Mustard Seed Charter School, whose director drove it into financial ruin. The school was reincorporated under a new state charter and a new name. As a charter school, it is managed by an independent board and accepts public-school kids through a public lottery. It operates on its own charter, or governing document, which must be renewed by the state.
The Highville Charter School has survived two renewals of its charter—a sign that it has regained the state’s trust after its predecessor’s demise. Now the school is seeking state permission to expand to the 10th, 11th and 12th grades, Drezek said. The request is part of a five-year charter renewal request that’s up for state approval this year, he said.
The school, which has a “global studies” theme, is unaffiliated with any other charter schools, Drezek said. Three-quarters of the kids hail from New Haven, 20 percent from Hamden, and 5 percent from other towns, including as far away as Middletown, he said. Students are accepted through a lottery run by the school in March.
Drezek said the school has been searching for places that could serve as a permanent home and accommodate a future expansion.
“We had to identify properties that could fit us,” he said. There were “not a lot of options.” The school came across AT&T’s Building 1 at 300 Mansfield St., a 108,000 square-foot facility that includes “a new roof, windows, HVAC, elevators and 258 adjacent surface parking spaces,” according to Highville’s website. Highville would have full ownership of the building.
The new building would “put us in the center of the neighborhood that we draw the most from,” Drezek said: Many of the New Haven kids who attend Highville hail from Newhallville.
The school employs 50 staff members. As the executive director, Drezek effectively serves as both the principal and superintendent, he said. He said the new building would have to be fitted out for classrooms. And AT&T would have to seek zoning relief. He said he is hopeful the plan will work out.
“It’s a beautiful building,” he said.
The building sits just outside of a cluster of properties owned by the Science Park Development Corporation, a not-for-profit partnership including Yale and city government.
“As their nearest neighbor, we certainly welcome them with open arms,” said Science Park chair David Silverstone.