Charter Schools Just Got a New Tool to Help with Building and Expanding School Facilities

By Ellis Carr

When I talk to administrators and school officials about their biggest challenges when starting a new charter school, what I hear most are principles of education they want to employ, curricula, enrollment and parent engagement. That focus is about building futures, not, well, building buildings. Yet, that is a real element of building or expanding any charter school. For organizations that have never worked on construction projects, I can understand why it’s not at the top of the list in most conversations. As so many of you have told me and my team, it’s intimidating! But while construction can be a daunting process, it shouldn’t have to be. To address your real concerns, my team created a new guide to take the confusion out of the process.

I’m talking about The Answer Key, a simple how-to guide with practical tools designed to easily guide charter school operators through successfully managing their facility construction processes. This free, step-by-step publication is based on Capital Impact’s 20 years of supporting and financing successful charter schools across the country. The guide includes particular input from our in-house construction management team, as well as considerable guidance from many educators who have been through the process, to capture their real-world experiences.

Walking Charter Schools through the Facility Development Process

The Answer Key takes charter school operators through the key phases of facility development:

  • Concept – including conducting demand and feasibility studies, completing a needs assessment, and creating a preliminary capital budget;
  • Predevelopment – including assembling a development team, determining criteria for site selection, confirming zoning codes, and refining a budget;
  • Design and pre-construction – including determining a final space assessment and design, developing preliminary building plans, securing permits, and formalizing a budget and financing;
  • Construction – including selecting a general contractor, and managing inspection and certificate of occupancy issuance procedures; and
  • Financing – including knowing what lenders look for, mitigating risk, identifying the best financing options, and identifying sources of flexible financing other than conventional loans to match revenue and cash flow streams.

Another feature of The Answer Key are several printable tools that allow users to input their particular circumstances, budges, etc. These include:

  • A timeline for the facility development process, with key milestones along the way;
  • A sample project schedule that digests key elements found in each chapter;
  • A variety of appendices including: needs assessment worksheet; financing evaluation worksheet; lender documents; construction consultant checklist; and preliminary budget worksheet; and
  • A glossary of key terminology.

Real-World Case Studies

When entering this process, charter school operators should know that they are not alone! Others have gone before, made mistakes, run across roadblocks and made it out on the other side successfully.

In The Answer Key, we share stories of organizations that we have partnered with, small and large, across the country to complete the building of new facilities or expansion of existing ones. These examples show that, given detailed information, advice and timelines, any charter school can make it from concept to construction. Examples of schools Capital Impact has supported include Equitas AcademyLee Montessori and Washington Leadership Academy, Montessori For All, and Brooklyn LAB.

The essential expertise in The Answer Key came from education practitioners who have been there before. I’m incredibly grateful to them for their contribution: Joyce L. Montgomery at Charter Schools Development Center; Kate Hirsh, formerly with Pacific Charter School Development; Thomas E. Porter from Building Hope; Erin Mote and Dr. Eric Tucker of Brooklyn LAB Charter School; and Sarah Kirby Tepera of Montessori For All.

Building Charter School Capacity for Long-Term Success

Why did we do this? As school administrators know, schools are more than just buildings; they are communities. Building “communities of opportunity” is at the core of our work at Capital Impact, and it is why we share tools like The Answer Key with charter schools. As a mission-driven organization, education has been central to our national community development work for more than two decades. Charter schools are altering the educational landscape for underserved communities nationwide. Fostering their growth is helping to close the achievement gap for students who are not receiving a high-quality education simply because of where they live.

To date, Capital Impact has delivered $738 million in financing to 235 charter schools, increasing access to more than 235,000 students across the country. Combining financing and capacity building through tools like The Answer Key advances and supports charter school projects that help people break barriers to success and expand just and equitable opportunities for all.

If schools aren’t built, then we can’t create the educational impact that all students deserve. It’s a simple as that.

We are proud to extend tools like The Answer Key to help charter school administrators achieve success that ensures that kids can pursue their dreams in school and beyond.

If you have questions about The Answer Key, please visit

For more, see:

Ellis Carr is President and CEO at Capital Impact Partners. Follow them on Twitter: @EllisCarr2

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1 Comment

Mukuli Dickson s

It nice to learn about this, as a head teacher in rural area how l wish to be connected with your group for information and assistance in developing my primary school in Binga District , Zimbabwe.

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