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Walden staff looks at building
Walden Academy officials got their first good look this week at what could possibly be a new campus for the public charter school in Willows.
The former Sunshine Market's interior is fresh and new from a complete remodel after a fire destroyed the business in 2011, just six weeks after opening.
The Tehama Street supermarket site would provide 22,000 square feet of classroom space, four entrances and exits and the plumbing to add additional restrooms, said Walden Director Mele Benz, who took the school board on a tour through the facility Tuesday evening.
The space would also accommodate the possible addition of a library, science lab and food service area, as well as a lounge, private entrance and restroom for teachers.
Benz said the school needs more space in order to advance it seventh graders to eighth grade next year.
"What led me to the market was trying to think of any place in Willows that has existing infrastructure," she said.
Benz desperately wants to keep her students together when it gains more students in the fall.
The school board will meet on March 19 to open estimates provided by the three architectural firms interested in designing the new school.
Officials said the market's owner is willing to construct the necessary classrooms in exchange for a long-term lease.
Walden Academy is currently housed in classrooms at St. Monica's Catholic Church.
Benz said the Diocese of Sacramento, which leases the facilities to the school, is also working with Walden officials to possibly accommodate the school's growing needs, including providing a 800-square-foot classroom at the Parish Center directly across the parking lot from the Social Hall, which the school also rents for assemblies and special programs.
Walden officials first talked about putting in a portable classroom in the back of the school, but the site would require an engineering study and an upgrade to its power infrastructure.
"There is quite a bit of room, but it is in a low-lying area that collects a lot of water," Benz said. "We call it Lake Walden."
A potable classroom on the graveled area behind the church would cut kids off from restrooms," she added.
The Pacific Avenue kindergarten classrooms and administration offices are leased from a separate landlord.
School officials said Tuesday they are hoping not to rent a third location to accommodate their needs.
Although Benz said charter schools have successfully occupied former shopping centers, there will be some challenges at the Tehama Street location.
Students would have a smaller outside play area, even if the city approved the fencing off of the front parking lot.
The owner may also have to consider the addition of some skylights.
"There is just something about having natural light," said board President Kelly Lawler.
The Walden board will have to make a decision on the facility soon in order to have a new school in operation by the fall, Lawler said.
"We hope parents will attend the March 19 meeting to give their input," she said.
CONTACT Susan Meeker at 934-6800 or email@example.com.