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NEO to Relocate

NEO's Adult Education, High School Looking for a New Home

DECEMBER 12, 2015 6:30 PM
JOYCE RUSSELL JOYCE.RUSSELL@NWI.COM, (219) 762-1397, EXT. 2222

PORTAGE — For decades, the stately brick school building on Central Avenue on the city's west side has been a place for second chances.  It was the home to the Portage Adult Education and Portage Adult High School for years before Portage Township Schools got out of the adult education business. Neighbors Educational Opportunities picked up the slack some four years ago, applying for and receiving a state charter to run New Vistas High School, a public high school aimed at providing classes for students 18 years and older without a diploma, and an adult education program within its worn walls.

Possibly by the beginning of the 2016/2017 school year, the former Garyton Elementary School will shut its doors as a facility catering to adult students. It could, however, reopen at some point as an alternative high school.

Rebecca Reiner, executive director of NEO, confirmed this week that her organization has been asked to vacate the building. "We have looked at many properties and we are committed to staying in Portage," said Reiner, adding they have executed a contingent purchase agreement on a piece of commercial property within the city's limits. Reiner added she can't say what that property is until a feasibility study and financing on the new project has been completed.

Portage Township Schools gave notice to NEO in February it wanted its building back. Reiner said that was after attempts were made by NEO to purchase the building.

State law requires a school district to lease vacant space to any charter school, which PTS has done for the last four years for $1 per year. NEO pays for the operational and maintenance costs of the building.

 

NEO and PTS officials are working on a deadline for when NEO must vacate the building. Reiner said the most recent deadline has been the end of this school year, but that she is in negotiations with PTS for an extension if needed.

PTS Superintendent Richard Weigel also confirmed this week the district is looking to use the building as an alternative high school for Portage students. He said the timeline is open and it isn't the school district's intention to force NEO out of the building until it is ready to move.

Reiner said NEO administrators, staff and students are looking at the move to a new facility as an opportunity.

Currently serving 800 students in high school classes, high school equivalency preparation, English as a Second Language classes and citizenship preparation, she said she believes the facility they are looking at will provide opportunities to expand services to students and their families.

Fifty-five percent of the students are Porter County residents and 43 percent reside within Lake County. It is the only high school equivalency testing site in Porter County.

Reiner said the 800 people served by NEO is a drop in the bucket. U.S. Census Bureau statistics indicate there are more than 60,000 adults in Northwest Indiana who do not have a high school diploma or high school equivalency diploma.

"We want to make NEO a hub for continuing education in Porter County for non-traditional students," said Reiner, adding they are looking at adding certification classes in the trades or medical field to NEO's offerings once the new facility opens.

Reiner said, while they have substantial community support, they are looking at business and industrial partners to help guide, and possibly finance, the effort to move to a new facility and design programming to increase high school and career education efforts.

NEO has received a $1.1 million loan from the Indiana Department of Education Charter and Innovation School Advance Program toward the project.

"It was less than we'd hoped for. We'd hoped to borrow all the funds for the purchase and necessary renovations," said Reiner, adding she estimates the project will cost $4 million.

NEO administrators are presently looking to borrow the rest and will launch a major capital campaign to secure the debt. Once funding is in place, said Reiner, they will be reaching out to the community, in particular businesses. She's hoping to hold forums to help assess the needs of business and industry and how NEO can help its students to train and learn to meet those needs.





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