Global Outreach Academy, the Jacksonville-based foreign-language charter school planning to open in Flagler County in less than six weeks, finally has a home. It will be located on the unlikely ground of the Flagler County Airport, in a building that has had a terrible time keeping a tenant since 2004: three such tenants have attempted to operate out of the facility since then, and quickly failed.
The last one—a start-up called Microhose—had hurriedly rushed through a lease agreement with the county, much like Outreach Academy, two years ago, only to do little more than erect signage and make promises.
The Flagler County Commission approved this latest three-year lease with the school on Monday, without discussion, after just one working day of negotiations between the county administration and the school, and two days past the deadline the school board had set for the charter school to have a facility, if it planned to open for the school year starting for students on Aug. 16.
Global Outreach plans to have a language specialty, with Russian and Spanish as principal languages, and an enrollment of 350 students this year, growing to 500 in the second year. The school has been on a frantic hunt for a facility for months. It looked at the old Food Lion property in Flagler Beach, then the property of Heritage Academy in Bunnell after heritage was forced to close by the school board for being a failing school two years in a row. Outreach also looked at Roma Court in Palm Coast. In every case, negotiations failed.
The airport property was a surprise, but it brought two desperate entities—the county and Global Outreach—to agreement. The county has been looking to fill the airport building since 2009. On Monday, the commission approved a lease that will have Global Outreach paying $11,000 a month for three months beginning in August, then $13,500 a month through July 2015. The lease includes a provision to raise the rent in accordance with inflation.
We were assured by the county that the lease agreement could be placed before the commission by July 2,” Kristy Gavin, the school board’s attorney, said. “With this assurance we were comfortable with affording a two day extension.”
“The lease has been signed,” David Soroka, the son of Global Outreach owner and founder Sergey Soroka, said today. Still, Global Outreach’s opening day appears shaky. Sergey Soroka was in the Ukraine this week. His son said he’d be back next week. And many questions are still unanswered about the school. While Sergey had said last month that the school had already “lined up” the 20 to 25 teachers necessary for the school, and hired a principal from a Tampa charter school, David said today that “we’re still working on that.” He said the school was also still working on figuring out how much work would be necessary to make the airport building ready for school. And it was working on putting the word out that there would be a new school in the county.
Now that Heritage has been shuttered, there are two remaining charter schools in the county: Palm Harbor Academy and Imagine School at Town center. Charter schools are privately run but on taxpayers’ dime. They are chartered through the school board. The charters are required to have governing boards that operate publicly. But the school board provides oversight, ensuring that the charters follow the rules—albeit less stringent rules than those set for traditional public schools.
In its first three years, a charter school may not use public dollars for construction, but may do so thereafter.
The airport building is out of the way, even for properties at the airport. It is reachable through a small, two-lane road that disappears to the east of the airport, behind the old Ginn hangar, and along one of the airport’s runways. Global Outreach will be required to install fencing on the west side of the building to prevent students from wandering onto the airport’s tarmac. And students will be prohibited from walking beyond the access road gate without adult supervision, according to the lease.
“We have discussed the need for safety and security with the county and Global. We are comfortable with the plans to ensure” both, Gavin, the school district’s attorney, said. “This facility has been and is designated for a school.”
The lease is good news for the county, which fills yet another vacant building at the airport with a paying customer. The 19,100-square foot building has been empty since January 2009. It was built for Embry-Riddle Aeronautic University in 2004, when the university signed a 10-year deal to run a flight school out of it while buying at least 104,000 gallons of fuel every year. The Commercial Airline Pilot Training program lasted barely a year. The university never bought the fuel in the volumes pledged, and quit buying it altogether when the CAPT program fell apart, but kept making its lease payments. The building was sublet to another flight school in 2008. That school didn’t last a year. In May 2010, Embry-Riddle bought its way out of the lease with a one-time, $900,000 payment to the county.
At the time, the county owed $1.14 million on the building. It couldn’t use the payment to clear most of the 20-year loan because the loan, which stretches to 2024, forbids early repayments. Those payments add up to $111,000 a year.
The county then leased the facility to a start-up called Microhose, which was supposed to be an innovative company that manufactured a new kind of water hose. That lease was signed hurriedly, supposedly because the company was rearing to go. The county administration and the county commission celebrated that deal with great fanfare and back-patting, speaking of the deal as proof of the county’s forward-looking initiative and promising riches.
The company never operated, and quietly disappeared. The county, of course, never spoke of the failure publicly, which added to the string of fiascos at the airport, including the Ginn bankruptcy and the vanishing of Cakes Across America, which had occupied a small building near the entrance of the airport. The county has had better luck lately, filling a part of the Cakes Across America building with an Enterprise Rent-a-Car franchise, and, more recently, another part of the building with Chanfrau & Chanfrau, the attorneys’ firm.