Charter schools becoming specialty of Minneapolis’ RJM Construction

Renderings of the Athlos Leadership Academy in Brooklyn Park, Minn.

Renderings of the Athlos Leadership Academy in Brooklyn Park, Minn.

by Dan Rafter

Minneapolis’ RJM Construction is no stranger to overseeing the construction of charter schools. This segment of the construction industry has become a specialty.

It’s little surprise, then, that RJM has been hired to serve as general contractor on the Athlos Leadership Academy, a Brooklyn Park, Minn.-based charter school that will serve students in kindergarten through ninth grade.

Brian Recker, senior vice president at RJM Construction, says that charter schools have become a steady source of business for his company. At the same time, RJM has experience in building sports-related field projects, too, such as the 50,000-square-foot Braemar Golf Dome in Edina, Minn., and the Eden Prairie Community Center in Eden Prairie, Minn., a project that included a new baseball stadium.

This combination made RJM Construction the logical choice to serve as general contractor for the Athlos project, Recker said.

“This project will tap into a lot of our recent experience,” Recker said. “We’ll be able to draw on these experiences during the build-out.”

Athlos will mark the fifth charter school that RJM Construction has built. RJM is scheduled to finish construction on the project in time for the 2014-2015 school year.

Plans for the 89,437-square-foot facility include classrooms, specialty music and science rooms, a gymnasium, athletic training areas and a full commercial kitchen and cafeteria. The campus also will include outdoor baseball, football and soccer fields, along with a basketball court and playground area.

In addition to RJM Construction, the project team consists of owner The Charter School Fund; architect BRS Architects; civil and landscape engineer Westwood Professional Services; structural engineer Stapley Engineering; and mechanical, electrical and plumbing engineer Musgrove Engineering.

The project is unique in the way it is being financed. In past charter-school projects for RJM, the charter schools formed their own LLCs that acquired the financing for construction, either directly or by issuing bonds.

This project, though, is different. A developer that specializes in developing charter schools, The Charter School Fund, based in Boise, Idaho, is financing and developing the Athlos Leadership Academy. Athlos will then lease the building from the developer.

This has tweaked the way RJM Construction is working. Usually when building charter schools, the company enters the design and development process earlier, providing its input. In this project, though, RJM is working from a design that has already been finalized.

“It does change the way we work a bit,” Recker said. “It’s not a major change, but it is a unique way of approaching a charter school project.”

RJM broke ground on the project in early October, and is on pace to meet its goal of wrapping up the project for the start of the next academic year.

“Our goal is to be done in August to give the staff time to move in and get set up for the school year,” Recker said.

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