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Renaissance applicants still determining facility location

It's too soon for school operators looking to open Renaissance schools in Camden to nail down an exact location to build - or an existing school to turn around, according to applications filed with the state.

The two school operators hoping to open "Renaissance schools" in Camden this fall requested waivers from the state for the portion of the application requiring that they provide an address and building schematics plan.

Mastery and Uncommon Schools are looking to be approved to open in the fall 2014-2015 school year and have been working with the city to determine a permanent location for the schools they hope to build or renovate, pending state approval, the applications say. June 2 is the final deadline for round two of the application process. Round two requires applicants to share construction schedule, agreement to purchase land, and financing plan, among other details.

In the meantime, they've started recruiting students and teachers and have secured temporary locations for next year through the district.

Both Mastery and Uncommon prefer to locate in pre-existing district buildings, according to the applications, sent to the state April 7. The district has several unused facilities.

Uncommon Schools hopes to open with a kindergarten in a temporary facility at the former Parkside Elementary School on Kenwood Avenue in Parkside. Uncommon would build a permanent school in neighboring Whitman Park.

Sites Uncommon is looking at for the permanent facility include 1800 Copewood Street, owned by manufacturer Phil-Mar Industries, 1667 Davis Street, owned by the Camden Laboratories, 1800 Davis Street, owned by Ferry Plaza and sites at the intersections of Haddon and Crestmont and 8th and Carl Miller.

Uncommon, which operates 38 schools serving nearly 10,000 students in Boston, New York, Newark, Rochester and Troy, hopes to grow to five schools in Camden by 2019.

Mastery, which has turned around several schools in Philadelphia, listed a wide range of neighborhood interests for permanent facilities, including Parkside, Whitman Park, East Camden and North Camden.

If approved, starting in the fall Mastery will serve up to 220 K-2 students at the former Washington Elementary School on Cambridge Street, which currently houses one of the district's Camelot programs.

Up to 380 students in kindergarten through grade five could attend Mastery's second temporary facility, at Pyne Poynt Family School, now a sixth- through eighth-grade middle school, which currently uses only about half its building.

Superintendent Paymon Rouhanifard has announced no schools will close in the 2014-2015 school year.

The district has said the application process for the district-charter hybrid schools falls in line with state requirements. David Sciarra of the Education Law Center, disagrees, saying the Urban Hope Act requires a building plan for a newly constructed facility and does not allow for a temporary location in a district school or the permanent takeover of one.

The statute says that within 10 days of approving the operators at the district-level the applications must be sent to the state and include "the proposed address and a description of proposed facility" and "schematic plans, pursuant to N.J.A.C. 6A:26-5.3, for the prospective renaissance school's proposed facilities."

The 10-day deadline was extended after the district filed a request for more time to conduct additional community meetings. No final word yet from the state.

- Julia Terruso