School to occupy former department store

POCATELLO — An East Idaho elementary school will soon occupy space in a former Sears department store in Pocatello.

Gem Prep: Pocatello, a 4-year-old K-6 public charter school, plans to make the cross-town move before next school year.

“We are very excited,” said Gem Prep: Pocatello executive director Jason Bransford.

Bransford said occupying the 74,000-square-foot former department store, which is connected to the city’s shopping mall, will increase the school’s visibility in the community and help it more than quadruple enrollment.

Concept design of the current department store’s transformation into a charter school.

The 113-student school’s current location in a former private school at the end of a residential street can make it hard to find, Bransford acknowledged. Relocating to the old Sears building will bring it next to a busy highway connecting Pocatello with the growing city of Chubbuck.

The busier location and added space will help the school meet its eventual enrollment target of 580 K-8 students. Currently, 105 students are waiting to enroll.

In addition to space for 25 classrooms, the building will broaden the school’s focus on “real-world” learning, Bransford said.

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He pointed to the current school’s “fabrication lab,” a small classroom that provides kids with access to a variety of hands-on creation and collaboration tools, including coding robots, a green screen and interactive story creation software.

The new building will allow the school to more than double the current lab’s size.

Current concept designs of the new school also include an indoor gymnasium, cafeteria, drop-off loop, outdoor playground and grass field.

The school will join several other Idaho charter schools housed in unorthodox locations, including space in a strip mall in Nampa and an old movie complex in Blackfoot.

Bransford equated the process for acquiring the property to a “rent-to-own” scenario.

Building Hope, a nonprofit organization that helps charter schools acquire facilities, is purchasing the property. Gem Prep: Pocatello will rent the facility from the organization for five years. The school will then purchase the property from Building Hope.

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