York Preparatory Academy, a newly forming charter school, has lost a deal to pay for the campus it planned to open in August, leaving organizers in search of a place to teach the 1,180 students expected to enroll.
Founder Craig Craze said he's working on a new financing arrangement to build a campus that would be ready by the start of the 2011-2012 school year. Meantime, he hopes to lease a place where students can attend during the coming school year.
In all, 1,588 families signed up to enroll children at York Prep, which had planned to open in August in The Gates, an unbuilt subdivision off Eastview Road near Rock Hill. A lottery decided who would attend.
The plan was to start in a campus comprised of pre-fabricated buildings that would have been assembled to create separate wings for elementary, middle and high school classes. Founders expected to build a permanent campus in about three years.
But just over a week ago, organizers said, they learned that a deal to finance the modular campus fell through, leaving the school's future in question.
Organizers said they have started working on a new deal with G.M. Hock Construction, a development company that has built a charter school in Durham, to finance a permanent campus on The Gates property. However, if a deal is reached, the campus wouldn't be ready until August 2011.
The school's founders held a special meeting Saturday at First Baptist Church in Rock Hill, during which Craze broke the news to families. Craze, with the school's governing board sitting on stage behind him, sought to reassure the crowd of several hundred people.
"The idea of this not happening was heartbreaking," he said. "But then, a sense of resolve set in ... We're not ready to give up. We're not ready to walk away from this ... Come hell or high water, I believe it is going to open this fall. We were working feverishly this week to give you confidence so you stay with us."
Although several people left the auditorium, the majority of onlookers appeared supportive. Applause followed Craze's explanation of the potential deal to build a permanent campus earlier than planned.
As for the coming school year, Craze mentioned three options that he's pursuing:
York Prep has offered Fort Mill schools $500,000 to lease Banks Trail Middle for a year. That school was originally scheduled to open in August, but Fort Mill school officials delayed that until at least August 2011 due to cuts in state money. Fort Mill schools Superintendent Keith Callicutt, reached by phone, said Craze had discussed the offer with him, but Callicutt declined to comment further until he receives a formal proposal from York Prep and the Fort Mill school board reviews it.
Another option, Craze said, is the unoccupied Trinity Christian School campus. The private school in Rock Hill closed last year after a steep drop in enrollment.
This week, Craze plans to contact York school district officials to ask about leasing one of the buildings that students will move out of when the district opens its new high school in August.
Several parents in the crowd were caught off guard by the news.
"It scared me," said Travise Smith, whose two children plan to attend York Prep next school year. "It made me think twice, definitely." But "we'll still hold out. We've still got plenty of time to decide."
William Hendley, who plans to have his son enroll in ninth grade at York Prep, wasn't fazed by Craze's announcement.
"Things like this happen all the time," Hendley said. "It's just like starting a business."
Craze also pointed out positive news, saying that the more than 200 names on a waiting list to get in the school indicates interest is still high. Also, the school has tentative employment agreements with 30 teachers, about half the number it plans to hire.
But, Craze said, his intent Saturday was to be transparent.
"We could've tried to sugarcoat this, but we came here and laid out the facts. ... We know it's not going to be convenient where we end up." ... But "you almost need a little bit of a crisis to help the community gel."