Idaho Falls charter school set for August opening

An Idaho Falls charter school is months away from opening its doors for the first time — in a remodeled 73,000-square-foot former Sears department store.

Michelle Ball

Alturas Preparatory Academy Executive Director Michelle Ball told EdNews Thursday that the school is on track for a projected August 30 opening. Alturas will serve some 315 students in grades six through 10 this upcoming school year. The school will add grade 11 in 2022 and grade 12 in 2023 for an eventual targeted enrollment of 672.

Alturas joins its elementary sister school, Alturas International Academy, also overseen by Ball, to provide International Baccalaureate learning models to students in the Idaho Falls, Bonneville and Shelley school districts.

It’s not the first time a charter startup has sought space where merchandise was once sold. Blackfoot’s Bingham Academy operates in a local strip mall. Another charter, Gem Prep Pocatello, moved into a bygone Sears department store of its own in 2019.

Ball said the space provided a budget-friendly alternative to building a new facility, an often tricky task for charter startups that lack the same local taxing authority for facilities Idaho’s school districts have.

Ball, center-left, consults with Alturas Preparatory Academy board members about renovations.

Alturas has received a range of private financial support aimed at transforming the building into a school, including:

  • A $1.76 million grant from the J.A. and Kathryn Albertson Family Foundation when the Idaho Public Charter School Commission approved Alturas a year ago.
  • Over $950,000 from from Idaho’s “Communities of Excellence” charter school program administered by charter support group Bluum.
  • Several $10,000 donations from volunteer “founders” of the school and a $25,000 contribution from Idaho Central Credit Union.
Rendering of Alturas Preparatory Academy, courtesy of the school.

Building Hope, a nonprofit organization that helps charters receive loans for facilities, helped secure the location. The Washington, D.C.-based charter support group helped Alturas International Academy secure its current location in a historic downtown building in 2016.

Ball said the Sears building’s spacious interior is well suited for classrooms. Still, there have been some challenges. “We had to be creative to make sure the interior classrooms were going to get enough natural light as well as feel open and inviting.”

Disclosure: Bluum and Idaho Education News are both funded by the the J.A. and Kathryn Albertson Family Foundation. 

About Devin Bodkin

Reporter Devin Bodkin covers education issues in East Idaho. He is a former high school English teacher who specializes in stories about charter schools and educating students who live in poverty. Follow Devin on Twitter @dsbodkin. He can be reached by email at [email protected].

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