Second Avenue lot now top choice for charter school siteBy Catherine Lackner
An empty lot in the 400 block of Southwest Second Avenue is emerging as the probable site for a new charter school in downtown Miami that's planned to open to students by August 2002.
The public school, proposed to the state by the Downtown Development Authority, will serve 500 kindergarten through 5th-grade students.
Plans call for the authority to create a nonprofit to operate the school and be responsible for obtaining the site. The authority does not want to run the school once it's established.
"We will be getting a school downtown," Miami Commissioner Willy Gort, chairman of the development authority, told the group's board of directors last week.
When the authority applied to start the school in September, a plot adjacent to Bayside Marketplace was favored because of its access to the central business district. But its waterfront location, costs and liability issues make it less feasible.
The Second Avenue location, an inland site, is owned by the Miami Parking Authority and adjoins the Riverside Center office building.
"We met with the Miami Parking Authority. We'd like to see if they would make that site available to us," Commissioner Gort said.
It has not yet been decided whether the parking authority will lease or sell the property, said Arthur Hertz, chairman of the Off-Street Parking Board, but he indicated that a deal seems probable.
"That's a piece of land we bought from the City of Miami to take some pressure off of the city" when financial hard times hit several years ago, Mr. Hertz said. "We really have no immediate need for parking there. We think it would be very good for the charter school."
A third site in the Government Center area next to the Miami Police Department, also on Northwest Second Avenue, has not been ruled out.
Charters are free, independent public schools that are run privately by individuals, groups or municipalities. They receive about $3,000 to $4,000 per student in tax money but are subject to fewer regulations than most public schools.
The charter school must be approved by the county's School Board and the State of Florida. There are about 15 charter schools open in Miami-Dade county.
"In order for the project to be economically viable, the site must be made available to us by the DDA," Joaquin G. Avino, a former county manager, said in a letter to Patti Allen, authority executive director. "The Bayside and the Riverside sites are both under the ownership in some fashion of the City of Miami. The DDA needs to acquire control of the site."
Time is of the essence, Mr. Avino said, as the agency rushed to meet the Oct. 1 application deadline because "any delay results in the opening being delayed for a full year, since it is not an option to open a charter school after the school year has commenced."
A site must be finalized before the application is ruled on in the spring, according to Mr. Avino, who is president of Charter Schoolhouse Developers Inc., the entity chosen to manage the school for the development authority.
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