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Franklin charter school is about to expand

A concept rendering of the new Benjamin Franklin Classical Charter Public School building that is planned in Franklin.
A concept rendering of the new Benjamin Franklin Classical Charter Public School building that is planned in Franklin.Arrowstreet

One of the Commonwealth’s oldest charter schools is moving to a new building in Franklin with hopes of reducing its waiting list and doubling its enrollment within 10 years.

The Benjamin Franklin Classical Charter Public School plans to break ground this spring on a 72,000-square foot building at 500 Financial Park Drive.

The new facility will allow the school to grow from 450 students in kindergarten through eighth grade to 900, said Heather Zolnowski, head of school.

“Every year we continue to have a wait list of 350 to 505 students,’’ she said. “It’s hard to tell people who really want to come here that we don’t have the space. There really is a need and interest in the academic program we offer and we wanted to offer that to more students.’’

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She said each year the school receives about 190 applications for the 50 available kindergarten slots, in addition to requests for other grades.

When the new building opens for the 2019-2020 school year, enrollment will increase from 50 students to 92 students per grade in kindergarten through fifth grade. Over the next 10 years, total enrollment will expand until it reaches 900.

“Families continue to apply and the expansion will give us an opportunity to finally let them in,’’ Zolnowski said.

Zolnowski said the school is popular because of its classical educational programming, and its focus on language and arts, character education, and community service. She also said it’s one of just a handful of charter schools in the region.

Others in MetroWest include the Christa McAuliffe Charter School in Framingham, the Francis W. Parker Charter Essential School in Devens, the Advanced Math and Science Academy in Marlborough, and the Foxborough Regional Charter School. According to the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education, the waiting list as of Oct. 1 at McAuliffe was 103; AMSA, 471; Parker, 124; Foxborough, 1,072; and Franklin, 277.

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The Franklin school opened in 1995 and has been in the same building at 201 Main St. for all of its 23 years.

In 2014, the school received approval from the state to expand. Also that year, the school applied to become a regional charter school, serving 14 communities in addition to Franklin. The other communities are Bellingham, Blackstone, Millville, Holliston, Hopedale, Medway, Mendon, Milford, Millis, Norfolk, Plainville, Upton, Walpole, and Wrentham. Most of the students, 71 percent, still come from Franklin.

Since 2014, the school has been working to secure the land, permits, and financing for its new home.

“We now have the land, the financing, and we have permits pulled so we are ready to hit the ground running as soon as the ground is ready for us,’’ Zolnowski said.

In addition to providing space to grow enrollment, Zolnowski said the new building will allow the school to have dedicated science labs, areas for pull-out student services, additional art and music rooms, a maker space for STEAM (science, technology, engineering, the arts, and mathematics) learning, and after-school programming.

The school leases its current building from the Archdiocese of Boston, which uses the school after 3:45 p.m. each day. Zolnowski said the restriction limits the amount of after-school activities they can offer such as tutoring or science club.

“It will be great for us to be able to offer those services on a more regular basis,’’ she said.

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The Franklin charter school isn’t the only one taking steps to reduce its waiting list.

The Foxborough Regional Charter School purchased a nearby building in the spring of 2017 to expand enrollment and increase instructional space, said Mark Logan, the school’s executive director. The school typically has more than 2,000 students on its waiting list each year, he said.

The new building, which was renovated during the summer and opened in the fall, houses the elementary grades of the K-12 school.

The Foxborough school opened in 1998 with 562 students and will grow to nearly 1,700 students by next year.

“There is strong demand,’’ Logan said. “We were squeezing kids into our existing facility.’’

Logan said parents choose the school for its academic program, which includes Spanish starting in kindergarten, K-12 format, and strong school community.

“I believe in school choice, and we are an option,’’ Logan said.

A concept rendering of the new Benjamin Franklin Classical Charter Public School building that is planned at 500 Financial Park Drive in Franklin.
A concept rendering of the new Benjamin Franklin Classical Charter Public School building that is planned at 500 Financial Park Drive in Franklin.Arrowstreet

Jennifer Fenn Lefferts can be reached at jflefferts@yahoo.
com
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