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Chester County Press

USDA grants Avon Grove Charter $84 million for building project

03/06/2024 10:27AM ● By Chris Barber

A representative of the U.S. Department of Agriculture announced last week that a grant of $84 million has been awarded to the Avon Grove Charter School for the construction of a new building.

Bob Morgan, the Pennsylvania State Director of the Department of Agriculture Rural Development, said at the conclusion of a ground-breaking ceremony that the school qualified for the grant because it is in a rural zip code and it obviously serves its agricultural community well.

Throughout its history starting in 2002, the school has offered a strong bonding with agriculture that included farm animals, ecology and a greenhouse. The Charter School has supported a farm, sheep, ducks, rabbits, fish and bees. It is also a strong advocate of art, music and ingenuity.

School CFO Donna Archer said the talk of expanding and renovating began in 2021 with a decision by the administration that the modular classrooms “had to go.” That was followed by a needs assessment and two years of exploration of building plans and financing.

She told the audience of about 50 that, late in 2021, she became aware of the possibility of support from the Department of Agriculture, and they proceeded from there. On Thursday, Feb. 29, they held a ceremonial groundbreaking for the project.

Archer said the $84 million includes $50 million for the building itself, with the remaining $34 million allocated for infrastructure, the interest for a tax-free municipal bond and the costs of renovating and updating the other parts of the property.

Morgan said he was so impressed with the school that when he began working with them, he had a budget of only $39 million.

“I asked for approval for $45 million more [and got it] for new infrastructure, new science labs and a gym. This represents the largest charter school investment in USDA history,” he said.

He added the grant will offer enhanced education for the current student body as well as the 250 students on the waiting list.

Since its beginning, the Charter School has occupied the former—and aged—Avon Grove school building in the 100 block of State Road in London Grove Township. The Charter School also occupies the former Kemblesville Elementary School in Franklin Township for the younger grades.

The new building will sit behind the current upper school.

According to the program document issued at the ceremony, the new building will be two stories high, will contain 29 general classrooms, 10 science rooms, a learning center and a gymnasium and support space.

Board President Dwayne Degler, whose son started at the Charter School for kindergarten in 2007, expressed words of appreciation from the dais.

Head of School Kristen Bishop Bishop said she has felt from the beginning that “[M]odulars are not good for the kids. They deserve better.”

With that in mind, however, she said the Charter School graduates have, without exception, told her that the education they received at Avon Grove Charter far exceeded the inconvenience of the modular classrooms.

She explained, “They deserve a gym and to not be stuffed in a small space. Our kids deserve it and the USDA made our dreams come true. I am thrilled for the community. The journey is just beginning, and I am ready for the journey.” 

High School Principal Matt Messick began the ceremony by leading the Pledge of Allegiance. He had with him ninth grade student president Noah Ramsey, who will be a member for the first class to graduate from the new building.

D’Huy Engineering & Heckendorn and Shiles are the contractors for the project.

After the indoor gathering in the late afternoon, the participants, administration, staff and guests gathered outside for the ceremonial groundbreaking. The school then held a social gathering that featured snacks of tacos and cupcakes.