BEAR CREEK TWP. — The conceptual drawings show a spacious atrium with a stone fireplace — not exactly images that yell “school.”
But the drawings were on display Thursday as Bear Creek Community Charter School unveiled plans for a new, 63,000-square-foot facility to be built largely thanks to a low-interest loan of nearly $12 from the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
Noting he had stood in the same parking lot 10 years ago to announce the birth of the charter school that currently sits in the shadow of a very noisy turnpike overpass, the charter school’s Chief Executive Officer Jim Smith called news of the loan “a momentous event.”
“One of my duties is to provide our staff with the resources they need to succeed in the classroom, and right now I’m failing in that,” Smith said, noting the current school is too small and the facilities too limited. “Those restrictions are impeding our academic progress, not to mention the efficiency and stewardship of taxpayer funds.”
The loan, to be repaid over 40 years at 3.5 percent interest, comes from the USDA Community Facilities Program, intended to support essential facilities for public use in rural areas. USDA Rural Development State Director Thomas Williams, a Mountain Top native, made the official announcement.
“This is a great example of how U.S. Department of Agriculture money can be used to improve the quality of life in rural areas,” Williams said.
Acting state Secretary of Education William Harner praised the staff and administration, and said the new school is “an incredible opportunity to move our students well into the 21st century. This is an exemplar school.”
And U.S. Rep. Matt Cartwright, D-Moosic, took the announcement as an opportunity to tout his vision of government’s role. “This project will create and maintain quite a few jobs in Northeastern Pennsylvania,” Cartwright said. “I am a big fan of economic development programs of the USDA.”
The new school will sit about two miles from the existing site in a lot cornered by state Route 115 and East Parkway Road. Plans call for a gym, cafeteria, athletic fields, and a pond and stream with nearby trails to help fulfill the school’s goal of environmental education.
While roomier than the current building, the new school will still house only about 450 students, Smith said, so it won’t allow much enrollment expansion. The land has been purchased by the charter school’s nonprofit foundation, which is providing nearly $7 million in additional funding for the construction. Smith said no plans have been made for the old school and nearby buildings.
Looking over a sketch of the proposed facility overlaid on a satellite image of the site, Chet and Laing Rhoads heaped praise on the plan. They have a grandchild who might be among the first to graduate from the new facility, if construction goes as planned and the ribbon cutting occurs in 2015.
“It’s beautiful,” Chet Rhoads said. “We’re thrilled to see this take shape.”