When Paramount Schools of Excellence (PSOE) was launched in 2010, the charter school began with a single building in Indianapolis’ Brookside neighborhood. In the years since then, PSOE has grown into an award-winning charter school network with three Indianapolis schools, an online academy, more than 1,400 students, and an ambitious plan for statewide expansion that calls for 10 schools in the network by 2031.
In a Nutshell
What: An overview of the relationship between Paramount Schools of Excellence and IFF, which has supported the public charter school network as it has grown from one school in Indianapolis to multiple locations in the city, while also offering an online academy and planning to expand to 10 schools statewide by 2031.
IFF Support: $1.5 million loan and a $200,000 credit enhancement as part of the $7.7 million renovation of Paramount Schools of Excellence’s first school facility in 2016; Various real estate services since 2016, including feasibility studies, market and demographic analyses, pre-development support on a historic rehab, and the development of a customized manual to help Paramount replicate its facilities in new locations as it executes its plan for growth.
Impact: 450 new student seats, 80 FTE jobs created
This summer, PSOE completed the first steps in its expansion outside of Indianapolis by securing a lease for a school building in Lafayette, IN, and by acquiring a vacant school in South Bend, IN – the result of a new state law that offers unused school facilities to interested charter schools for $1. PSOE was selected to purchase the building in South Bend over another charter school after presenting its plans to a state panel. The unanimous decision by the panel to sell the building to PSOE was the result of a proven curriculum that PSOE will replicate from school to school and the strength of PSOE’s plans for the facility. Those plans include $3.5 million in initial renovations to the building’s interior and exterior, a new playground, and the addition of a goat barn, coffee shop, and cheesemaking room – hallmarks of PSOE’s approach to holistic education in dynamic facilities.
PSOE’s willingness to invest in new communities was the result of extensive engagement with IFF’s real estate team in Indiana, which provided unique support to determine whether the right conditions existed in South Bend and Lafayette for PSOE charter schools to succeed. Going beyond straightforward feasibility studies, the analyses considered the demographics of the communities, transit-accessibility, estimates for renovations, and an assessment of the existing education ecosystems in both locations to determine how easily PSOE could begin operating in the two markets. The findings indicated that the school buildings and the communities were good fits for PSOE, clearing the way for its first locations outside of Indianapolis.
We needed an unbiased opinion before going in, and IFF was our starting point. We wouldn’t have moved forward without that support.
“We wanted to know what everything looked like on the ground and whether it was going to be viable to lease or acquire the buildings, renovate them, and successfully operate them in markets we weren’t already embedded in,” says Jessica Monk, PSOE’s Chief Operations Officer. “We needed an unbiased opinion before going in, and IFF was our starting point. We wouldn’t have moved forward without that support.
“One of the reasons we were so successful in getting the board to vote in our favor to acquire the building in South Bend is because we had IFF, our architects, and general contractor out to the site to work on the game plan,” Monk adds. “Within a week, we had a mockup of our plans for the facility, which is an aggressive turnaround. That made it possible for us to present a really high-quality vision for how we’d revitalize the space.”
Now that control of both sites is secured, PSOE is rapidly moving forward with renovations to the 46,733-square-foot facility in South Bend and expects to open a K-8 school in the fall of 2023, while the 50,500-square-foot K-8 school in Lafayette is also expected to open in 2023 following modest modifications to the facility. As one of the highest performing charter school networks in the state, PSOE’s expansion will bring quality education to communities in Indiana with few existing charter school options for parents.
The Path to Statewide Expansion
Although PSOE’s expansion into South Bend and Lafayette are the latest examples of its relationship with IFF bearing fruit, they’re far from the only ones. For the past five years, IFF has worked closely with school leaders to map a plan for growth, deploying capital solutions and real estate services along the way.
After operating its first school – Brookside – in a former Masonic Lodge in Indianapolis for several years, exceptional academic results and deep community engagement resulted in a need for more space to accommodate growing enrollment. After being introduced to IFF through a philanthropic partner in the city, PSOE began exploring flexible financing options to expand the facility.
In March 2016, IFF closed a $1.5 million loan and provided a $200,000 credit enhancement as part of the school’s $7.7 million renovation. The project added 10 classrooms, two bathrooms, and a cafeteria to the facility, enabling PSOE to add 250 student seats to the K-8 school. The school also features a “time and space discovery center,” which provides a planetarium show for small groups comparable to those offered at places like Chicago’s Adler Planetarium, as well as an urban garden in which students can learn about nutritious foods.
Following the renovation of Brookside, PSOE began looking for a location for its second school in Indianapolis and once again turned to IFF to help guide the process. After an IFF analysis of the neighborhood and its demographics was completed, PSOE opened the school in an existing building while planning the construction of a new, permanent facility on the same site. As the planning progressed, it became apparent that building new on the site would become cost-prohibitive, leading PSOE to pivot and look for a facility elsewhere in Indianapolis that could be renovated to meet its needs.
Beginning in January 2019, IFF Senior Project Manager Bryan Conn assisted with site search and conducted due diligence, entitlement work, acquisition, and financial closing on a 55,000-square-foot facility that would ultimately become the K-4 Cottage Home school. Built in 1917, the facility was the former home of Indianapolis Railways, which stored and repaired rail cars in the building until the 1980s. Following a $9 million renovation of the space that revived a community asset that had fallen into disrepair, PSOE opened the school in 2020 while retaining many of its historic features.
“There are pockets of creativity throughout the building that nod to the history of the space, like the paint bays where the rail cars were worked on,” Monk says. “At Cottage Home and our other schools, it’s been important to us to retain those features because they represent what the neighborhood was before we were there.”
Around the same time renovations were taking place at the Cottage Home facility, PSOE began moving forward with plans for a dedicated middle school (grades 5-8) and similarly relied on IFF’s real estate team to drive the process. After completing a financial feasibility study assessing the viability of leasing a new space, IFF’s Indiana-based real estate team supported PSOE as it opened a temporary middle school while waiting for a renovation of a permanent facility to be completed within the $38 million campus at the former P.R. Mallory and Company dry cell batteries plant.
That permanent school – Englewood – opened to students for the 2020 school year, adding another high-performing public charter school to the east side of Indianapolis and breathing new life into a facility that sat vacant for approximately 30 years before PSOE moved in. The 190,000-square-foot building, which is owned by Englewood Community Development Corporation and which PSOE shares with Purdue Polytechnic High School and a hydroponic growing operation for a local produce vendor, served as a manufacturing center for decades before closing in the early 1980s.
As PSOE continues to grow and enter new markets in Indiana, they’ll be doing so with the continued support of Conn and the rest of IFF’s team in the state. A manual is currently in the works to help PSOE quickly and easily replicate its facilities from one location to the next. This will not only provide PSOE with a reference guide that simplifies its expansion but ensure that each new school facility meets the charter network’s high standards to support its teachers and students.
Your environment affects your happiness and your productivity, and it has a massive influence on how you experience education. So, the facilities we’re working in are a cornerstone of who we are and what we do.
“Your environment affects your happiness and your productivity, and it has a massive influence on how you experience education,” Monk notes. “So, the facilities we’re working in are a cornerstone of who we are and what we do. We set a high bar for our teachers and for our students in a rigorous environment, and the facilities need to support the work that they’re doing so that they can achieve at the level they’re capable of reaching.”