Lebanon’s Ledyard Charter School is buying its Hanover Street building downtown, enabling the school to expand its offerings, thanks to more than $1 million in USDA borrowing.
John Higgins, executive director at the school, said Ledyard has been working for more than a year to secure the funding.
“It’s all been about trying to secure a permanent home for students and families,” Higgins said.
The United States Department of Agriculture is providing the school $1.07 million in loans to purchase the building and bring the upstairs space to code, allowing Ledyard to add a seventh and eighth grade. The funding will essentially give Ledyard a 35-year fixed mortgage on the property at 2.25% interest, Higgins said.
Ledyard has about 40 students in grades 9 through 12, and takes students from Lebanon and other communities in the region. The school’s mission is to educate disengaged and disenfranchised students who might not otherwise get an education, Higgins said.
“Our mission is to provide a personal learning plan for every student who walks in that door,” Higgins said. “We try to meet the student where they are.”
Wendy Hall, chair of the Lebanon school board, said Ledyard provides a vital service for Lebanon and other school districts by taking in students who need more individualized help.
“It’s been essential,” Hall said. “Without Ledyard we’d have to have those programs in-house and that would be really expensive.”
While the Lebanon district struggles to get renovation and construction bonds passed through the annual school district votes, Ledyard was able to get a low-interest loan without seeking voter approval. This year, voters rejected a $20 million renovation plan for the Lebanon district that would have brought an upgrade to three schools in the district, including Lebanon High School.
Higgins said the trade-off is that charter schools do not get the same level of funding as public schools. Charter schools in New Hampshire receive about $7,000 per pupil per year, while the average per pupil spending in New Hampshire is about $16,000.
“To bridge that gap and get to the next step, we’ve got to be creative,” Higgins said.
Hall does not begrudge Ledyard’s ability to seek funding outside the annual school district meeting. She’d like to see the state open up avenues for public school districts to fund necessary projects without having to hit up voters and taxpayers.
“It’s been very hard with the way that the state of New Hampshire provides money for renovation projects,” Hall said.
Ledyard has been in the 10,000-square-foot Hanover Street property for about five years. Higgins said the school took over the property after Lebanon Community College closed, so most of the space was ready for education. The funds will be used to purchase the building outright and undertake the necessary renovation. Higgins said it might be a year before the school is ready to add the new grades.
The property is in the Lebanon Mall project, which itself is undergoing the final phases of a separate $2.5 million renovation. The school will have direct access to the Lebanon Mall’s greenway tunnel once that work is complete.