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Crews bring down the former milk processing plant on Pensupreme Dairy property on West Hamilton Avenue in York City. Bill Kalina

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Students will soon be roaming the halls of the new York Academy Regional Charter School high school building, scheduled to open for incoming classes this August.

The charter, with students from 11 county school districts, has been adding grade levels since 2011 and is now entering its eighth year.

Construction of the upper school was slated for completion last week, according to a May 16 update on the academy's website, but charter CEO Dennis Baughman said crews are still adding the finishing touches. 

Back in November, the charter was $379,000 under its construction budget for the school, built across the Codorus Creek from its current building at 32 W. North St.

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More: Officials: York Academy expansion on schedule, under budget

As the the approximately $22 million project nears completion, Baughman does not yet have a final tally, but he anticipates it will be finished under budget.

There will be a reception Tuesday, July 24, at Warehaus in York City for those who gave significant contributions to the charter's capital campaign — names which Baughman said he has not released publicly yet.

York Academy families will be welcomed at an open house Aug. 2, before faculty members report to school Aug. 6 and students join them a week later.

The long haul: The 65,000-square-foot expansion has been two years in the making.

The charter purchased the former Pensupreme Dairy building for $695,000 about two years ago and demolished it to make room for the new high school.

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By November 2017, the charter's foundation was planning to secure a bond for the project, but agenda minutes show the closing of the deal was delayed several times before finally being approved earlier this year.

The holdup came from efforts to get a better rate, as well as a waiting game to see if  Congress would retain tax-free bonds for nonprofits — something the charter was counting on.

Lawmakers did retain the option, and a $35 million tax-free bond was ultimately issued — part of it set aside to cover the high school project and the other part used to purchase the charter's current building, which it had been leasing.

In early 2018, the charter  received a $5 million grant for the upper school from the state Redevelopment Assistance Capital Program.

Capital campaigns: The York Academy also had organized capital campaigns to help support the expansion.

A 2016 capital campaign sought $7 million to help cover real estate costs so the charter would still have adequate funding for programming.

Of that cost, $4 million would go toward the purchase the lower school building (which the charter did following the bond issue) to reduce operational and monthly lease expenses, $2 million would create an endowment for long-term program funding and $1 million would address needed building maintenance.

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A $3 million capital campaign launched in January.

Now that the building purchase and subsequent construction has been funded, it's a matter of making up for tuition and revenue from a school that will not have full enrollment for another few years, Baughman said.

"If we can bridge a three-year gap, we will be completely self-sustainable," reads the literature for the "We're Building Something Great" campaign.

The first year will see grades eight and nine in the new building, Baughman said, with one grade added each year for the next three years.

Essentially, the charter is paying for the whole building with only two fifths of its expected  enrollment, he said.

Interested investors can  buy into naming various buildings on the high school's campus, according to the website.

Businesses, individuals or those who wish to name a building in memory of a loved one have the option of short-term or long-term investments, which would temporarily name the facilities.

Long-term,15-year naming options range from suggested amounts of $80,000 to $300,000; and short-term, five-year investments range from $25,000 to $150,000.

Give Local York: York Academy Board of Trustees member and Give Local York organizer Meagan Feeser said the school was  involved in this year's 24-hour giving spree.

On May 4, the charter participated in Big Give Day, ending as the the No. 3 top performer, with $56,110 raised.

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As part of the campaign and Give Local York, students also participated in "penny wars," with a goal of $5,000 to send teachers to spend the night on the school's roof. The goal was met, and  five teachers/staff members were transported by York City Fire Department ladder and retrieved the next morning.

It was away of "supporting the school that supports them," Feeser said.

Looking ahead: The charter plans to have a full four-year high school by 2022, but for now, the focus is on bringing in this year's new class.

Baughman said he is looking forward to implementing the International Baccalaureate program in the new school.

York Academy is currently authorized to offer the IB program to grades K-5, and an authorization for grades six through 10 should come in the next couple of months, he said.

The "extremely academically rigorous" program goes beyond regular AP course offerings and gives students college credits — a great opportunity for those who might have their sights set on Ivy League schools, Feeser said.

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It's one of the aspects of York Academy education that makes the school stand out from others, and Feeser said  she hopes the location of the new school will serve to make its programming and successes more visible.

"One of the biggest things that we've noticed," she said, looking back on her three years on the board, is a lack of understanding from the public about the identity of the school.

Some don't understand what it means to be a charter, she said, and the board has spent a lot of time to try to educate the community on the school as a public, nonprofit institution.

Feeser hopes having a new high school building in an area that's a gateway to downtown York City will "further that conversation," she said.

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