Identify Constraints

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Identifying potential constraints during the needs assessment stage will reduce last-minute surprises (e.g., inability to open the school or get financing). Additionally, when you approach a lender they will ask you to provide the following information:


Estimate the amount of time it will take to complete your facility project. Figure out deadlines for opening the school, as well as milestones you must reach (such as obtaining a certificate of occupancy) in the interim. Working backward, estimate how long it will take to open the school: orienting teachers, decorating classrooms, receiving furniture and equipment, finishing cosmetic repairs, completing major construction projects, obtaining building permits, obtaining zoning variances, preparing architectural drawings, getting site control, securing financing, and locating an appropriate site. Leave ample time for each step. A project manager can help you estimate how long design and construction work will take.

Rules and Regulations

Find out the compliance issues for your local jurisdiction (e.g., building codes, zoning restrictions, ADA requirements). Sources of information on local rules and regulations include your project manager, other charter operators, charter school associations/resource centers, architects, and nonprofit developers. Local officials may interpret zoning rules and building codes differently, resulting in different answers to the same question. The final answer may not be available until you go through an inspection or zoning hearing. However, it is important to be aware of the types of concerns that may arise. For instance, if building codes require outside air in every classroom, this may impact the selection of a facility with classrooms that have no windows. You would need to understand the costs involved in remedying this situation, such as installing air vents. Learn the local regulations ahead of time to plan for or avoid costly installations, such as traffic lights.  

Building Permit Process

Cities require that you obtain a building permit before starting construction. Begin the building permit process early, and stay alert to the timing of permits so you have them approved when you receive your construction loan. Your project manager and/or architect can assist with the process. Check with your city’s planning department, as permit requirements and timelines vary by city, and will depend on the scope of your project. You’ll need information about your zoning use district to know what is allowed for a project in your zone. Prepare and submit all necessary permit application materials, and pay required fees. For some permits, you’ll need your project design under way and documented to submit your permit application for review. For your permit to be approved, assume you will need neighborhood notification and public hearings. The public hearing can take 60 to 90 days to be scheduled on the public calendar and for the hearing to take place. Once construction has started, inspections are required to ensure your project is in accordance with the permits issued.


Meet with your accountant, business manager, or financial advisor to determine how much is available for facility expenses. As you go through these questions, be sure to include your findings in your preliminary capital budget.

  • What is your school currently spending on facilities and operating expenses?
  • How much money do you have for facility expenses without impairing school operation cash flow?
  • How much will you need to raise or borrow (for upfront and ongoing costs)?
  • If you’re eligible for start-up funds, are there restrictions on their use?

Talk to foundations, politicians, and lenders. It is critical to know what funding sources are available before starting the site selection phase. There may be more or fewer resources available than you expect.

Project Affordability

To estimate what facilities your school can afford, experts advise that 10 to 15% of your operating budget is the upper limit of what you should spend on facilities; this includes rent and/ or mortgage, plus utilities and maintenance, and will vary by region. You’ll also want to evaluate your school’s per-pupil funding. 

Legal Disclaimer:

Nothing in this material should be construed as investment, financial, brokerage, or legal advice. Moreover, the facts and circumstances relating to your particular project may result in material changes in the processes, outcomes, and expenses described herein. Consult with your own professional advisors, including your financial advisors, accountants, and attorneys, before attempting to consummate any transaction described in this material.