Nearly 12 years after Midland Valley Prep opened its doors, the charter school has found an unlikely and welcome opportunity, said Principal Patti Strom.
A Denver company, which works with charter schools throughout the nation, has purchased the incomplete Compass Academy from a receiver and is holding the property until Midland Valley Prep can obtain the financing the school needs for the transaction.
Strom, a teacher at Jefferson Elementary School for 24 years, arrived at the charter facility in July 2013.
She and the Board of Directors soon agreed that a new location was essential.
The charter facility now anticipates the completion of the Compass Academy building on Toolebeck Road and moving into it next fall with a 5-K to grade 8 enrollment.
Midland Valley Prep is a public charter school with an independent board of directors, but still reports to the Aiken County Public School District.
Compass Academy originally was intended to become a K-12 private school. The project was abandoned, and owner Jay Brooks was arrested and charged with securities fraud and other charges.
The opportunity to purchase Compass Academy stunned Strom and her board members.
“I never dreamed Compass Academy could be an answer to our facility needs,” Strom said.
In the early 2000s, Lilian Thomas was operating a day care center next to Aiken Technical College. She converted it to Midland Valley Prep in 2002 and operated it before leaving under duress several years later.
Jason Shealy, a current parent and the board vice chairman, likes the charter school, the small classes and engaged teachers.
“But the building was never designed to be a school,” he said. “It was either build where we are or having to make a move. (Compass Academy) has been a great blessing, to say the least.”
The existing Midland Valley Prep site isn't suitable for the long-term, Strom said. The main building is already in poor condition, and adding to it would not be feasible.
The school purchased mobile units for more classroom space several years ago, and obtaining more also would not be practical, Strom said. The car traffic remains a concern.
Despite the physical plant issues, Midland Valley Prep has delighted Strom over the past seven months. The faculty offers parents the opportunity to have a say-so in their children's education, she said.
Strom has added a library that now has 2,100 books. An interventionist serves as a co-teacher in the classrooms, helping students who need extra attention. By the fall, Midland Valley Prep will have two teachers with gifted and talented certification.
“We have 191 students in grades 5-K to eighth,” Strom said. “We have asked our parents, and, so far, expect 75 percent to move with us to the new location. We're still in the process of all the planning and making sure to compile our vision.”
Jim Larson of AEL Capital of Denver purchased Compass Academy in late fall, and his South Carolina subsidiary will release it when Midland Valley's financial status is completed. Another Denver resident, Russ Caldwell, has served as a financial advisor to dozens of charter schools.
Midland Valley Prep anticipates a loan through the South Carolina Jobs-Economic Development Authority.
The sale to Larson's firm has not been recorded in Aiken County's Register Mense Conveyance office, which works with land titles and other documents. Some prospective buyers of the Compass Academy property have asked the office if it actually has been sold.
The property's sale won't be recorded until Midland Valley Prep completes the loan and formally purchases it, Larson said. But the Compass Academy property definitely has been sold, he said.
Senior writer Rob Novit is the Aiken Standard's education reporter and has been with the newspaper since September 2001. He is a native of Walterboro and majored in journalism at the University of Georgia.