A charter school is planned for the former Jim Moore Cadillac dealership on the 2200 block of North Main Street.
The long-abandoned dealership takes up nearly the entire block. It is bordered on two sides by the emerging Cottontown retail district, featuring The War Mouth restaurant, Indah Coffee and Cottontown Brew Lab.
The planned school poses a quandary for North Main boosters: It restores and reuses a huge, long-abandoned building; it provides an attractive downtown school; but, it also hems in their hip new retail destination.
“We haven’t taken a vote on it yet,” said Chris Barczak, chairman of the North Main Business Association. “It’s a badly needed gap-filler in the public school system in this area. But we don’t want it walled off so we have a dead spot in a developing area at night and on weekends.
“We’re real interested in seeing a site plan to see how it’s configured,” he said.
North Main has been on a roll in recent years. In addition to the aforementioned businesses and others, the street has been beautified and lighted and is seen as Columbia’s next emerging commercial district.
Lindsey Ott, principal of the charter school — called Clear Dot — said they want to be part of that renaissance.
“Downtown needs a good school,” she said. “And we want to be part of the community.”
Clear Dot has received a conditional charter from Erskine College, which along with individual school districts and the S.C. Public Charter School District are the only entities than can approve a charter school in the state.
The school would be open to the public and receive public funding, said Cameron Ruynan, a former Columbia City Council member who now is the chief executive officer of the The Charter Institute at Erskine.
Erskine, located in Due West, has authorized a total of 10 schools, three of which are now open, Runyan said. Of the remaining seven, five have received conditional charters like Clear Dot, he said.
The main conditions are the ability to have suitable facilities, Runyan said, and be able to raise appropriate enrollment. He believes the Clear Dot board will be able to meet the challenge.
“We’re very excited about them,” he said. “They are very organized. They have lots of capacity. We’ve been very impressed with their team. They are very engaged and they are active.”
According to its website, Clear Dot “is symbolic of our desire for an open learning environment. Clear Dot will be transparent; easily viewed from the outside and easy to understand. The Dot signifies our place as a small place on a map, but also a significant place that marks something important.”
Clear Dot plans to renovate rather than raze the sprawling dealership building, which features a showroom, offices, repair shop and other facilities, said Rick Ott, senior executive vice president of M.B. Kahn Construction Co., the school’s construction manager and contractor.
Kahn Construction has built more than 3,000 educational projects, Ott said, most recently the award-winning Richland 2 Institute of Innovation.
“That was mostly for sustainability,” said Ott, who is Lindsey Ott’s father. “We want to take that to a new level (with Clear Dot). We want to take an urban, blighted area and reconstruct it into something beautiful.”
The project will cost an estimated $20 million and be built in three phases over five years. Ott said renovation of the main showroom and garage would be the first phase.
“Part of the school’s mission is sustainable lifestyles,” he said. “As part of that, we are trying to rescue as much of the materials on-site as possible.”
A groundbreaking ceremony should be held in the next few weeks, with interior demolition to start next month, he said. Remodeling should begin in January, with the school to open in the fall of the 2019-2020 school year.
Clear Dot’s mission is providing education from a global perspective with a focus on sustainability.
”Understanding how different parts of the world impact each other,” Lindsey Ott said.
It is K-12 and could house 1,000 students at full capacity, she said.
The campus will feature outdoor gardens as part of the sustainability curriculum and a pavilion that could be used for community functions, she said.
Ott added that school has listened to the Cottontown community’s concerns and will continue to.
“We want to be a community school,” she said.