Chubbuck charter moving into Sears department store

Chubbuck charter moving into Sears department store

by Devin Bodkin, Idaho Ed News

CHUBBUCK — Workers on a scissor lift hoisted a basketball hoop onto an interior wall of the old Sears department store in Chubbuck on Tuesday.

A full-sized court is just one renovation aimed at turning the bygone retail store into a K-12 charter school equipped to absorb hundreds of local students in the coming years. Chubbuck-based charter school Gem Prep Pocatello plans to move in next month.

The school announced last year it would be leaving its current location — a former private school at the end of a residential street — and moving into the 78,000-square-foot facility, which has sat vacant for years and is part of Chubbuck’s Pine Ridge Mall.

Since that announcement, classrooms, office space, collaborative learning labs, a lunchroom and commons area have taken shape inside the former store. Outside, three acres of what used to be a parking lot is now prepped for a fenced-in playground, walking track, basketball courts and sports field.

Gem Prep leaders say the new facility will allow the K-6 charter to expand enrollment from 180 elementary students to 580 K-12 students by the 2022-23 school year — and bring the school’s emphasis on college prep and career-technical learning to more local students, including some 200 now waiting to get in.

Building Hope, a nonprofit organization that helps charter schools secure loans for facilities, purchased the Sears building and will lease it to Gem Prep Pocatello. Once the lease is up, the school will buy the building, Gem Prep Pocatello principal Gerald Love said.

Charter schools cannot tap into local taxes. And since Idaho’s first charter schools opened over 20 years ago, they’ve struggled to cover building costs.

The purchase and renovations for the Sears building add up to over $6 million, said Gem Innovations Schools director of development Shay Angelo.