Exploris Charter School plans to open its elementary campus on one of the last major undeveloped pieces of land around downtown Raleigh.
Exploris has been a middle school since its inception in 1997, and it will add kindergarten through fifth-grade classes in August. The school got preliminary approval this week to place two modular classroom buildings on 1.5 acres at the corner of New Bern Avenue and Swain Street, about four blocks east of Moore Square.
The site is part of an eight-acre property owned by developer Gordon Smith. He helped found Exploris 17 years ago, and he said the three-year lease for the elementary means the lot won’t see any permanent development anytime soon.
“I’m basically tying up the property for three years to help the school,” he said, adding that he’s a big fan of the school’s focus on independent learning and communication skills.
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Smith bought the property through a land swap with Vintage Church, which had planned to build its sanctuary on New Bern but ultimately sought Smith’s Longview Center on Moore Square instead. “I’ve given very little thought to what it might become,” Smith said of the vacant land.
With the New Bern lease, Exploris ends months of searching for scarce downtown space. The Raleigh City Council rejected the school’s proposal to lease the old Salvation Army building, citing environmental contamination concerns.
The school wanted to stay downtown because it partners with downtown institutions ranging from the N.C. Museum of Natural Sciences to the Raleigh City Farm. With about two months to go before school starts, director Summer Clayton is racing to get city permits for modular classrooms.
“We hope to have permits pulled by the last week in June so we can start construction” and welcome 208 students on Aug. 18, Clayton said. The campus will feature 11 classrooms and space to play outside.
After two or three years on New Bern Avenue, Exploris hopes to move a few blocks south to the city-owned Stone’s Warehouse building. The school is competing with five developers whose proposals to the City Council range from apartments to a grocery store.