By late next year, hundreds of elementary school students will be walking the halls of Guam’s newest school.
The iLearn Academy Charter School team, joined by local government officials, broke ground Friday morning on the 69,000-square-foot educational facility. It was an event seven years in the making, as school officials have worked to find a permanent place to call home.
”We are so excited. We have been looking forward to this day from the time we opened," Rachel Stake, iLearn principal, said. “It has been a bumpy ride. I think we did do a groundbreaking ceremony prior hoping that it would go through and it didn’t.”
iLearn Academy Charter School is one of the island’s three charter schools. It offers a curriculum that focuses on science, technology, engineering and math, or STEM. The new campus will afford the school ample room to expand various program offerings, school officials said.
“It’s been 13 years since we’ve witnessed the construction of a brand-new elementary school campus. And this was all made possible with GHURA partnering with The Learning Institute to fund a portion of the construction,” said Ray Topasna, GHURA executive director.
The Guam Housing and Urban Renewal Authority entered into a 20-year, $12 million loan with nonprofit organization The Learning Institute for the construction of Guam’s first new school campus in more than 10 years to cover more than a third of the cost to develop the school. The full project cost has been estimated at $32 million.
GHURA funding for the loan was made possible with a U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development Loan Guarantee Program under HUD's Community Development Block Grant program.
“It’s been too long since a new school campus was built on Guam, so the Leon Guerrero-Tenorio administration is extremely excited about this project. Unlike most of GHURA’s community development projects, our contribution to date has been more focused on the financing mechanism under a federal program that was previously not available to the insular areas,” said Topasna.
The project will benefit the children of low- and moderate-income families and ensure their access to a quality charter school education, according to GHURA.
The new campus will allow for growth up to a maximum of 900 students to be educated by iLearn, providing STEM-oriented education to children in kindergarten through fifth grade, according to GHURA.
Initially, the new campus will accommodate 740 elementary students.
The school's completion is expected to coincide with the start of the new school year in August 2022.
The charter school is a nonprofit entity. School officials worked closely with GHURA, HUD, and its contractor on financing the $32 million project.
“The HUD Section 108 program through GHURA’s participation was a miracle,” said Core Tech Chairman Ho Eun. Core Tech International is the contractor for the project. Core Tech Capital is providing the construction loan. The Guam Daily Post is an affiliate of Core Tech.
He noted that this is the first such project funded through the program on Guam and “it hasn’t even happened in Hawaii.”
“So it’s really a miracle. Great job to GHURA’s team,” he added.
For 18 months, iLearn, The Learning Institute, Core Tech Capital, Guam Community Development Enterprise and GHURA worked together to create a finance structure that combines federal grants, low-interest loans and flexible financing terms which led to the groundbreaking ceremony.
“What’s going to happen now as we apply for the New Market Tax Credit, that bridge loan will hold us over. We should have the bridge loan in place in another four months, so it's not the whole $20 million. It's about $13 million or so. Again, thanks to Mr. Ho and his vision and his commitment so he made that happen. Thanks to GHURA, too, for being a partner to get this grant again, like we said, it’s a Guam first,” said Albert Santos, treasurer of The Learning Institute.
iLearn Chief Operations Officer Helen Nishihira was excited to share the amenities the campus will offer to its students.
“One thing that we didn’t have at the old facility is a cafeteria that belongs to the kids. In the new facility, the cafeteria could be used for more than just a cafeteria. Now we can expand our robotics program,” Nishihira said.
“There’s enough ground for our agriculture program," Nishihara said. "There’s a gymnasium that we can actually use for athletic programs at the elementary level.”
The future home of iLearn Academy Charter School is located on Mendioka Street in Dededo on a lot behind St. Paul Christian School.