Even as the School Board prepares to vote tonight on whether to allow the city’s first charter to open in an alternate location for its first year, Paul Goldman — local pundit — says he has lined up a willing investor ready to step forward and renovate the Patrick Henry Elementary School building for free.
Tonight’s School Board vote on the Patrick Henry charter school could be decisive in determining whether the school will be allowed to open next August, but it also could be decisive in determining whether Richmond Public Schools has any interest in saving Richmond taxpayers more than $200 million, says Paul Goldman, a local pundit and Patrick Henry supporter.
Even as the Board prepares to vote tonight on whether to allow the city’s first charter to open in an alternate location for its first year, Goldman says he has lined up a willing investor ready to step forward and renovate the Patrick Henry Elementary School building for free.
The only catch: Richmond leaders must step up lobbying efforts in Congress for two bills that would change federal tax code to allow federal historic tax credits in the renovation of school buildings.
Goldman, who already convinced Virginia senators Jim Webb and Mark Warner and Rep. Eric Cantor to introduce twin tax credit bills this past winter, calls Richmond “ground zero” in both the charter school and historic tax credit debates.
“This bill could be passed relatively quickly because it’s already introduced,” says Goldman. “And we’re saying that once the bill is passed and signed into law, the next day we’ll come forward and make an offer that even the Godfather wouldn’t refuse.”
Sen. Tom Harkin, who chairs the Senate education committee, also has expressed support for the bill, Goldman says, as have Virginia governors Bob McDonnell, Tim Kaine and George Allen, and charter schools are central policy issues for both McDonnell and President Barack Obama.
Tom Kasper, owner of Kasper Mortgage Capital and an expert in historic tax credit construction, estimates the city could save $200 million by using both state and federal tax credits to rehabilitate Richmond’s aging school buildings. Mayor Dwight C. Jones recently announced plans to move forward with more than $150 million in renovation projects on four Richmond schools, all of which are old enough to qualify for both state and local credits.
Kasper says his company has successfully completed tax credit projects all over the country, and confirms that he is Goldman’s ace in the hole. Kasper says that he is willing to provide financing for Patrick Henry.
“We would form an investment partnership and commit to providing all the funds and delivering back to the system a completely rehabbed building to be used by the charter school or something else,” Kasper says. “All we’re asking is that they do some work in Washington and give us an acceptable lease.”
School Board Chairwoman Kimberly Bridges couldn’t speak for the board, but says she personally is amenable to hearing a proposal that would eliminate the construction renovation cost that right now remains a key concern for the School Board.
“I can tell you that the building costs on top of the regular charter startup is definitely part of the Board’s concern; is how that’s going to get paid for,” says Bridges, who also isn’t certain how likely legislation in Congress is to be passed within the timeframe necessary to move Patrick Henry into the school building within a year. “I’ve spoken to Congressman Cantor in the past about his job, and as he put it, they don’t call it an act of Congress for no reason. Timing may be the key issue for us right now and we haven’t seen any proposal about this means of financing.”
The School Board offered Patrick Henry a lease on the building for $1-per-year on April 15, but that lease has not yet been signed. Because of delays in offering that lease, Patrick Henry missed any hope of meeting construction deadlines that would allow it to open in the Patrick Henry building on Semmes Avenue this year. Tonight’s vote is for approval to instead open in nearby Woodland Heights Baptist Church for the first year while construction is completed.
But adding some legitimacy to Goldman’s tax credit cause is a clause in the School Board’s already approved charter contract with the Patrick Henry School of Science and Arts stipulates that both parties “shall investigate and pursue all federal and state historic tax credits that may be available for construction/renovation projects at the Patrick Henry School.”
Kristen Larson, spokeswoman for Patrick Henry, says the charter school’s board already has been hard at work on the tax credit issue.
“We’ve actually put in part one of our [state] application” to use historic tax credits, Larson says, indicating that the school has consulted with another local historic credit expert, Mimi Sadler, as well as directed its own architect to assume that any renovation designs must conform to state and federal guidelines for historic renovations. “All along with the plans, everything he’s been doing is with [historic credits] in mind.”