Sanitas Academy Director Emily Putz speaks at an information session earlier this month at Galvanize in Boulder.

The Boulder Valley school board on Tuesday agreed to give the organizers of Sanitas Academy more time to meet the district’s conditions and negotiate a contract for the charter high school.

Organizers are working to open in the fall of 2020 with 100 ninth graders, adding a grade each year.

The new school, previously named Summit Academy, originally was proposed as an extension of Boulder’s existing Summit Middle School, but with a more experiential, project-based focus. Summit Middle, founded in 1996, was Boulder Valley’s first charter school.

The Boulder Valley school board approved the charter application in April 2018. Organizers had hoped to open in Boulder in the fall of 2019, but failed to find a location and put the school plans on hold.

The previous contract negotiation deadline was Oct. 31. Tuesday, the board agreed to extend the deadline to Jan. 31.

The board also asked Sanitas organizers, by Nov. 15, to detail how the current plans, including the governance structure and targets for underrepresented student populations, may differ from the original application.

Because the school board’s original approval was conditional, Sanitas organizers have several conditions they need to meet for the school to open.

The conditions include requiring the school to submit evidence of enrollment of at least 100 incoming ninth graders — a number the school board agreed could be lowered if the school could show a solid budget with fewer students.

Another condition, and the one that’s proved the biggest hurdle, is finding a location. The approval notes the district won’t be a party to a lease or a purchase agreement. The board also didn’t support a request by Sanitas to co-locate at New Vista High School or otherwise use an existing district facility.

Sanitas Founding Director Emily Puetz asked the district to reconsider helping Sanitas find a building given the high price of area real estate.

After looking at about 30 facility options in Boulder, Lafayette and Louisville, Puetz said, the leadership team failed to find an option that’s both affordable with the first year’s lower enrollment and has enough space to expand in year two. Charter school funding, as is the case for traditional public schools, is based on student enrollment.

The top option for the first year is First Presbyterian Church’s annex in downtown Boulder, but there is no room to expand and the rent plus property taxes and utilities would take about 18% of the school’s revenue.

Another possibility is a space in Lafayette near Flatirons Community Church. But renting the space would take about 25% of revenue.

“It’s difficult to find affordable real estate in this community,” Puetz said.

As an alternative, she said, the Sanitas team wants to work with district officials to explore if there is available space in district schools Sanitas could use temporarily. Even two classrooms, for an enrollment of 50 students, could work for the first year, Puetz said.

“We’re trying to discern if there is a path that would cost less money in year one and year two,” she said. “Once we’re in the third year, we’ll be able to afford more.”

The school board agreed to direct district officials to take another look at available space. But school board member Kathy Gebhardt warned Sanitas organizers not to get their hopes up.

“Currently, we have no space that the district can offer,” she said. “I don’t want to have misplaced expectations around the facility issue.”

As the school grows, according to organizers, the hope is to be included in the school district’s next bond issue tax increase request to voters for a more permanent solution. Private financing is another possibility.

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