Tulsa Honor Academy has partnered with the George Kaiser Family Foundation to secure a permanent facility for its new high school after a yearlong frantic search.
The charter school, which is sponsored by Tulsa Public Schools, finalized a contract Thursday to lease the former PennWell building, 1421 S. Sheridan Road, beginning in August.
The property is being acquired and developed on the Tulsa Honor Academy’s behalf by a newly established GKFF subsidiary, which was created with the purpose of leasing the building to the charter.
John Gawey, a Tulsa attorney who is on THA’s board of directors, said purchasing a property through a third party makes sense from a liability perspective and allows the academy to focus on running the school.
“The separation of real-estate ownership from school operations using a supporting nonprofit affords THA liability protection, permits targeted fundraising for students and operations separate and distinct from the facility and allows for streamlined accounting of the school program separate from the facility costs,” Gawey said.
This arrangement resulted from one of the final hurdles in THA’s pursuit of a home for its growing number of high-schoolers. Late in the process of acquiring the building, school founder and executive director Elsie Urueta Pollock realized they needed a nonprofit entity to hold the property title to reduce risk.
Pollock said the George Kaiser Family Foundation agreed to step in and control the title.
“It’s exciting for us to finally be closing this chapter,” she said. “Our kids overcome so much, and they’re able to accomplish so much regardless of what space they’re in. Nonetheless, we’re just glad to be able to provide a facility that’s a really great learning environment for them.”
THA, which originally served only fifth-graders and adds a grade each year, has endured numerous growing pains since opening in 2015. After several moves, the school settled into a former east Tulsa elementary school two years ago.
The expansion into high school started this year. A lack of space resulted in the installation of a portable building for the approximately 100 new ninth-graders.
Finding a larger property for the addition of 10th grade next year became a priority for Pollock. She hoped to keep the high school in east Tulsa but had to expand her search to the rest of the city.
“We looked all over east Tulsa for a facility that was at least 40,000 to 50,000 square feet so it would be large enough to house our high school,” she said. “There weren’t any that size. The PennWell building, while it’s significantly larger, it actually gives us a lot of opportunities. We were able to get it at a very affordable price.”
The 117,000 square-foot facility is being purchased for about $1 million, but overall renovations are expected to cost about $14 million. THA currently can afford to renovate only about 40,000 square feet, which is enough space for the entire high school and is projected to cost approximately $6.5 million.
Pollock said the school acquired a loan from Civic Builders, a national nonprofit that provides low-interest financing for charters in underserved communities, to pay for the initial renovations.
To pay off the loan, THA has launched a capital campaign to raise $5 million. The charter has secured $2.3 million in committed funds so far, with the GKFF and the Walton Family Foundation each pledging $750,000. The Charles and Lynn Schusterman Family Foundation also pledged $500,000.
The eventual goal is to renovate the rest of the building and move the middle school there.
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