The spot where Escarpment Boulevard ends behind the Avaña neighborhood will soon be home to Veritas Academy’s four-story, 50,000-square-foot building on its new campus. The 12-year-old Southwest Austin school started construction on its first permanent location in December, Advancement Director Katie Luevano said.
“This will be one of the last major developments in that area just because of all the environmental and impervious cover restrictions,” she said.
Developing in Southwest Austin brings other hurdles such as limited availability of land and the high cost of building and renovating, Luevano said.
But with the challenges comes a wide audience of families, and a number of private and charter schools are establishing in Southwest Austin to serve the growing needs of parents and students.
Veritas, a private nondenominational Christian school that meets on the Austin Oaks Church campus off Monterey Oaks Boulevard, serves students in prekindergarten through 12th grade and has had five graduating classes. It will move to south of the Circle C Ranch neighborhood at 13401 Escarpment Blvd. by December 2017, Luevano said. Veritas Academy offers classical curriculum and utilizes a university model—the youngest children are on campus two days each week and add more on-campus days as they advance. Students are about to enter a time of more transition as Veritas gears up for its move, she said.
“We’re looking at a one-year build time,” Luevano said, noting elementary students will move into portable buildings on site by fall 2017 and other classes will move to the campus after that as the building is constructed.
On Southwest Parkway, founder Ashley Reinhardt is working with her father, developer Doug Ivey, on a new 16,000-square-foot private preschool called WonderWell. Its site is unusual compared with other schools in that it will be in the same development as offices, retail space and a restaurant.
“We really wanted to build it from the ground up,” Reinhardt said, adding because of the city’s restrictions related to environmental preservation, design plans for the Reggio Emilia school have evolved during the permitting process.
The early learning school in the coming Lantana IV development will serve children ages 2-6 and is scheduled to open in September.
Ivey, manager of JDI Holdings LLC, which is developing the property, said the area is a prime location for schools.
“Good, well-located land is very scarce. But you look for something that is close to centers of population,” he said.
Securing a Southwest Austin site
Public charter school Valor Public Schools, an aspiring tuition-free K-12 charter school, is applying for a Texas charter and hopes to open its first campus in August 2018—potentially in Southwest Austin, said Steve Gordon, the school’s proposed superintendent.
In addition to Northwest Austin, Valor is looking for school sites south of Hwy. 290 between I-35 and MoPac, he said. The area has a diverse population with interest in the school’s model featuring classical curriculum with advanced math, science and character development.
“We have 1,375 prospective Austin students on our interest list,” Gordon said.
Valor aims to lease and possibly renovate an existing building. The goal is to serve thousands of Austin students with three campuses within the school group’s first five years, said Jesse Bates, chief operating officer.
Kairos Academy of Austin also applied in December for a charter with plans to open in Southwest Austin. The school could move to a different area to have a more reasonable building budget, but staying within range of Southwest Austin families it would serve makes it worthwhile to stay in the area, according to Rachel Moede, who serves on the board for the school’s sponsoring entity, Kairos Ed.
Kairos is also looking to retrofit an existing building such as a warehouse, she said. Still, finding the perfect space is going to be challenging.
“A big part of our model is learning outdoors and learning out in nature—we really want to make sure that we have a green space,” she said.
The school should hear back from the Texas Education Agency on the status of its charter by March, she said. If the TEA grants the charter, the school could open in August 2018, she said.
More charter schools are opening statewide, with about 250,000 students enrolled and about 130,000 students on waiting lists in Texas, according to Veronica Garcia, spokesperson for the Texas Charter Schools Association. Enrollment grew about 13 percent in the past five years, Garcia said.
Schools addressing affordability
A public charter would enable Kairos to be tuition-free and serve families who cannot afford private school but are opting out of public school, Moede said.
“Southwest Austin is often sort of overlooked as being an affluent area,” she said. “I can speak from my own experience that it’s not [exclusively affluent]. Many parents in the area can’t afford to pay college tuition in kindergarten all the way through 12th grade and then
Public charter schools receive funding from the state and are subject to some laws that apply to public districts, such as being required to meet state academic and financial accountability standards and being subject to the Texas Open Meetings Act, Garcia said.
To pay for Veritas Academy’s construction and development costs, Veritas has a significant capital campaign—the initial milestone was $4 million, which the school reached in October. The school purchased land for the school in 2012, and one of the reasons it took four years to break ground is Veritas did not want to overwhelm its community, she said.
“We have never desired to increase tuition to cover the full expenses of campus development,” she said.
Veritas plans to give back to the community with its new space, offering access to events such as its fall festival as well as a possible new Mother’s Day Out program and a venue for community meetings and sporting events at its gym once it opens.
“We look forward to being able to open that up to the community when we have more space,” she said.