By Melissa Garcia
AURORA, Colo. (CBS4) – The growth of an Aurora charter school serving impoverished children has come to a halt due to its proposed relocation near a pot shop.
Vega Collegiate Academy, a kindergarten through 8th grade preparatory school, has filed an appeal with the state board of education after Aurora Public School District denied its relocation proposal.
In its first year of operation, the school taught close to 100 kindergarten and 5th grade students.
The academy is preparing kids for college who otherwise might not have the opportunity.
More than 70 percent of the students who attend Vega are on the free lunch program. Many are refugees. School leadership wants to move to a bigger building about a mile west of the church in order to serve more students with better facilities and programs.
Its original development plan approved by APS includes adding two grade levels per year until the charter offers full programming for K-8.
In order to do so, the school will need to find a larger space, which is no easy task in the Denver metro area’s tight commercial market.
Vega currently rents out a small basement space in a Lutheran church near 13th Avenue on Macon Street.
The move is backed by a national nonprofit that has already put roughly $40,000 into the relocation for traffic-mapping, crime and other studies that were needed in order to present the proposal to Aurora Public School District.
The site of Vega’s proposed lease-to-own new facility is a 60,000 square foot vacant retail space on Colfax Avenue near Galena Street. The three-story building is the former home of the Afrikmall.
Before the district’s denial put renovation there at a standstill, students and their families had been excited for the upgrade at a startup school that is already seeing astounding results.
“What I like about my school here at Vega is that I’m getting (better) grades than my old school and my education is growing higher,” said Jaydan Guzman, who speaks English as a second language and said he was struggling in academics at his previous elementary school.
“We want to stay in northwest Aurora because this is our community,” said Kate Mullins, Founder and Executive Director of Vega Collegiate Academy. “This is where our families live.”
“Vega is helping me get ready for college even though I’m at a young age,” said Zintavious Simmons, a Vega 5th grader.
After unanimous approval in January from the City of Aurora’s planning committee, APS last week sent Vega a final decision letter denying the move.
The district’s denial was based in part on area crime rates and proximity to a pot shop located just 300 feet down the alley from where students would enter the new school site.
“I think that communicated to our families that it’s okay to live here, it’s just not okay to go to school here,” Mullins told CBS4’s Melissa Garcia.
“I kind of feel frustrated because it’s not just stopping our education. It’s stopping more kids from having a better education,” Simmons added.
Vega’s future is now in the hands of the state board of education, which will decide if it will hear the appeal on Thursday. If so, the board could make a decision on the relocation as soon as another meeting in March.
If Vega is not permitted to relocate to the proposed facility, Mullins says it will have to re-pay the $40,000 to the nonprofit organization that already invested in the charter school’s development.