SANTA ANA, CA-An old Victorian-style house and two long-vacant office buildings on north Broadway in the downtown district have been purchased by the Santa Ana Unified School District to be converted into a charter school offering alternative educational opportunities for elementary school-aged children.

Called the El Sol Science and Arts Academy, the new school will accommodate 650 students on a first-come, first-served basis once open. Kathy Sabine, principal of the Heninger School, has been named principal of the new facility. Involved in the charter process for the school since its inception, she says that for now, plans are to renovate the two abutting office buildings beginning in January, with construction scheduled for completion by late August in time for the beginning of the school year.

In all, the district will spend $8.5 million to close escrow on the 2,300-sf house and two office buildings totaling 54,000-sf, including costs of renovation. Available parking for 80 cars is at a lot across the street. Escrow is expected to close in January.

“The two buildings were not designed together. They have a common wall and abut each other. The current owner has gutted them and knocked out walls so you can walk between the two buildings on the first two floors. That’s about all he’s done,” she says.

Funding for the purchase came from the Samueli Foundation and various state grants. The school has also formed an advisory board consisting of people from the non-profit sector who are experienced in fundraising. Developer for the project is Hopkins Real Estate Group of Newport Beach. Architects are LPA Inc. of Irvine, which recently worked on the Sage Hill School in Newport Beach.

“The Foundation is assisting us in going out and getting additional funders and partnerships which is really at the core of charter school development. Although there are public funds for curriculum and salaries, there are no real funds in the charter for facilities,” says Sabine. “By today’s standards, $8.5 million is very reasonable. My current school is 10 years old and cost $15 million back then. This is an extremely reasonable alternative to the facilities crisis school districts are having all over the country.”

Down the road, Sabine is hoping that the house will be transformed into a combination preschool and parent education center. The El Sol School will allow local students who, for the most part, have never been afforded an opportunity to explore their artistic side, a chance to develop those skills. By doing so the students will be better prepared to compete for available slots at the High School for Performing Arts, which must accept 25% of its students from Santa Ana.

“This is the phenomenal thing about Santa Ana kids. They are so open and receptive to these opportunities. It makes it so exciting to offer these types of curriculums. We just need to get them the opportunity to captivate these kids interests and motivate them. One size shoe doesn’t fit all,” Sabine says.

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