Montgomery's LEAD Academy secures facility for charter school

Montgomery's LEAD Academy secures facility for charter school
Montgomery Mayor Todd Strange and Rod Frazer announce the school's location. (Source: WSFA 12 News)

MONTGOMERY, AL (WSFA) - Officials with LEAD Academy, Montgomery's first approved public charter school, confirmed Thursday morning they've secured a facility in order to move forward with setting up their learning center.

LEAD Academy will be located at the former Algernon Blair Building, which previously served as a bank headquarters, at 2897 Eastern Boulevard.  The nearly 13-acre campus is made up of two brick buildings with 30,000 square feet of space.

The property is owned by Montgomery businessman Rod Frazer who said he didn't know what he wanted to do with the property when he bought it four years ago, "but I did know in my heart that we wanted to bring it to a high community use."

Frazer declined to discuss specific prices other than to say he has multiple subcontractors lined up to get into the construction phase and that it will cost into the millions of dollars to renovate.

This article previously stated incorrectly that Frazer donated the facility. He is not donating it outright. His contribution is to retrofit the property to fit the needs of LEAD Academy.

While there's no contract on the property due to a pending lawsuit against the charter school by the Alabama Education Association, the hope is to have a purchase agreement in place after the lawsuit is adjudicated which would be similar to a lease-to-own scenario.

LEAD Academy Board Chair Charlotte Meadows tells WSFA 12 News that once the lawsuit is out of the way, there's an agreement for a 5-year lease with the first year totaling roughly $300,000.

A property listing for the site online last updated April 2 showed the complex was for lease at a rate of up to $35,000 per month. The listing also included a video tour of the property.

Meadows said she almost felt the need to pinch herself, calling it all "surreal" and thanking Frazer, calling him "very much a benefactor and supporter".

"He is making it financially available at a great price and willing to help us with the initial construction costs," she explained.

Officials with the school say they fully expect to be open in September for the start of the new school year for K-5 students. The school will expand by a grade each additional year.

The Alabama Public Charter School Commission approved the city's first charter school start-up in a 5 to 1 vote on Feb. 12.

LEAD started searching for a location but hit a snag when a deal to purchase the Montgomery Chamber of Commerce's small business incubator building on South Court Street fell through.

Academy officials are also fighting a lawsuit brought by the Alabama Education Association that claims it didn't have the required number of votes to approve the school, that its plan does not meet state requirements for public charter schools, and that interim State Superintendent Dr. Ed Richardson is "friends" with those responsible for the school's approval.

A hearing is set for April 30, but a judge is allowing LEAD Academy to go ahead and recruit employees for all staffing positions, advertise and accept applications from potential students, and secure a location.

Until a decision is reached, however, LEAD can't offer employee contracts or enroll students, and school leaders are also not able to accept state funds. However, LEAD is able to collect information about people interested in working at the school and enrolling. A registration interest form for students will be on the school's website in the coming weeks.

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