Determine Criteria for Site Selection

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Site selection is the process of examining multiple options and assessing their relative advantages and disadvantages. Site selection comes after the needs assessment is completed. If you select a site before the needs assessment, you may compromise on key design aspects due to site limitations. The site selection process involves the following interrelated tasks:

  • Assemble an experienced site selection team. It should be a sub-team with representation from the project development team.
  • Review site selection criteria, identify a site, and devise a plan for your project.
  • Initiate the loan process with a lender.

Importance of Site Location

Learn about the neighborhoods of your potential sites. Walk through the area and chat with residents to better understand whether the site is a viable option and if your school is welcome. For site selection in urban areas such as Los Angeles, Boston, and Washington, D.C., use a benchmark of one acre and search within a one- to two-mile radius of your target area. If this is not possible, search for sites in fringe zones (e.g., commercial).

Avoid developing a site plan too quickly. Professionals recommend developing one to three alternative site plan concepts for potential sites. With multiple site options, you can rank project priorities — e.g., cost, location, and size. Exploring more than one site option also makes clear to lenders and other funders that you are committed to building the best project possible. And, analyzing alternative site plans allows you to compare costs and design features in a practical rather than abstract way. The site selection team may find a site that is not ideal, but with a creative design plan can meet your requirements. By contrast, you may conclude that no redesign can overcome a site’s inherent deficiencies.

Before purchasing a piece of property or a building, confirm that the zoning allows your school to occupy that site. This should be investigated during the due diligence period prior to closing on the purchase. Other due diligence items include verifying that adequate public utilities are available, determining that there are no environmental hazards on the site, and conducting a geotechnical (soils) investigation if new construction is planned. When reviewing your site options, use the Site Selection Criteria provided in this section to assess the fit of the site, compare and contrast sites, and prioritize needs. Also, there are rating systems that offer “green” site selection criteria. See Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) for Schools and the Collaborative for High Performance Schools (CHPS) Best Practices Manual.

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Site Selection Criteria

(1) Location

  • Is the site located in the community which the charter school serves?
  • Is the site accessible to target student demographics? Can the site serve as a community hub?
  • Is the site accessible by public transportation and convenient for students and staff?
  • Are nearby traffic levels acceptable?
  • Is the site visible to passersby on foot or in vehicles?
  • Are adjacent businesses appropriate (e.g., no adult video stores)?
  • Is there a history of crime or vandalism in the area?
  • Is the area suitable for evening events?

(2) Site/Land

  • Is there access to utilities (e.g., electricity, sewer, water, gas, and phone)?
  • Will the site require heavy maintenance (e.g., topography, drainage, retaining walls, or geotechnical issues)?
  • Is the proposed use for the project permitted by zoning? (For example, can you build the type of project you want on the site?)
  • Is there adequate space for parking?
  • Are the soil conditions conducive to the project’s structural needs?

(3) Building

  • Is the size adequate, and can it accommodate future growth?
  • Is it structurally sound?
  • What is the condition of the roof, exterior walls, and windows?
  • What is the condition of all major systems (e.g., plumbing, electrical, and heating/ventilation)?
  • Is there proper drainage in the basement?
  • Can the seller or broker provide recent utility bills from all seasons?
  • Will projected energy costs be reasonable?
  • Has the building been checked for asbestos, lead paint, or other hazardous materials?
  • Are there appropriate fire exits?
  • Is the building American with Disabilities Act (ADA) compliant?
  • Is it a sustainably designed/green building or LEED-certified?
  • Can the space be easily reconfigured for educational and administrative space?
  • What is the condition of adjacent and nearby properties?

(4) Costs and Renovations

  • Is a recent appraisal available?
  • Is the purchase price (or lease rate) reasonable and comparable to similar sites of similar age and quality?
  • Are the preliminary costs for improvements reasonable? Has your architect or project manager confirmed the costs?
  • What are the estimated maintenance costs?

(5) Legal and Timing Issues

  • Is the property or site vacant and available immediately?
  • Is the seller motivated to sell within your timeframe?
  • Is sufficient financing available to complete the transaction within the required timeframe?
  • Are there zoning restrictions? Will there be a need for zoning variances or lengthy hearings? Required setbacks? Legal easements or rights-of-way across the property? Prior title issues?
  • Are you permitted to display signage on the site?
  • Will building permits be available within the required timeframe?
  • Are there any political issues that would block approval of the site? Are the neighbors likely to be supportive?

Calculations to Assist Site Decision-Making

As you consider your site options, use common calculations. An appraiser or broker can assist you in comparing these measures against comparable charter school costs.

  • Cost Per Square Foot (cost psf) is the total cost divided by the total square feet of space.
  • Cost of Improvements is based on your preliminary budget for a potential site. Your cost of improvements should include both hard costs and soft costs.
  • Rent Per Square Foot (rent psf) is your annual rent divided by total square feet. The square footage used is the net leasable area. If you are planning to lease space, be sure to understand what expenses you will pay versus expenses the landlord will pay. Also, factor in one-time costs to improve the property so it is ready for occupancy. Some landlords provide a “tenant improvement allowance,” which is factored into the rent psf calculation.
  • The Site Acquisition price for a land purchase may be quoted on a per-acre or per-square-foot basis. It is typically quoted on a per-square-foot basis in urbanized locations.

Types of Sites

Creativity and flexibility are important when seeking an appropriate home for your charter school. The following chart summarizes advantages and disadvantages of various types of space.

Related link in Essential Resources: Site Options

Related link in Webinars: Site Selection Webinar Recording

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.