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KIPP academy forges ahead with a $20 million building renovation

A rendering of the KIPP Academy Lynn Collegiate High School at the renovated J.B. Blood building on Wheeler Street. (Courtesy image)

LYNN — KIPP Academy is wasting no time on turning a 90-year-old downtown building into a $20 million high school.

The growing charter school is seeking contractors to renovate the 100,000-square-foot J.B. Blood building on Wheeler Street. Under the plan, the facility will house KIPP Academy Lynn Collegiate High School.

Starting in the 2019-2020 school year, the building will have space for 450 students in grades 9 through 12. When completed, the original campus on High Rock Street will have 1,200 students in grades K- 8.

Today, the charter school is the largest of a dozen tenants in the building which had leased space for its K-2 classrooms, offices, and cafeteria. KIPP has an agreement to purchase the four-story property from the Lynn Economic Development & Industrial Corp., the city’s development bank, for an undisclosed amount. The property is assessed at $2.3 million. The closing is expected in March.

Caleb Dolan, KIPP Academy Lynn executive director, said financing capital projects is a challenge for charter schools. As a result, he said, they work hard to keep construction costs low.

“Our goal is to create a beautiful space to learn,” he said. “But buildings don’t teach kids, so we don’t do much that’s frilly.”

The high school project will save money because they will not build a gym. Instead, he said, they partnered with the YMCA to use their space for classes.

Charter schools get much of their income from traditional public schools. When a student leaves a regular public school, the cost to educate them goes to the charter school. In a recent report, the Massachusetts Department of Education said the per pupil expenditure in Lynn is $13,785. When that number is multiplied by the 1,300 KIPP students, that takes a $17.9 million bite out of traditional schools annually.

Still, charter school proponents say charters are public schools and the money is still being spent on public education.

The other way the charter school will save on construction costs is the hiring of non-union construction workers. Their request for qualifications for the renovation allows union and nonunion shops to apply.

“We pay prevailing wages and follow all the state school construction rules,” Dolan said.

At least one Blood Building tenant is still searching for space. JOI Child Care, which has been housed on Wheeler Street since 1985, has yet to secure a spot in the city for its more than 100 children.

Michelle Merson, the center’s executive director, declined comment.

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