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Capano converts call center to new charter school

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NEWARK – When students at the Academia Antonia Alonso Spanish-Immersion Charter School returned to their studies last fall, they likely didn’t know what it took to create their school.

Capano Management LC Construction former Comcast call center Academia Antonia Alonso Charter School

A before and after look at the conversion of a former call center to the new Academia Antonia Alonso Charter School. | PHOTOS COURTESY OF CAPANO MANAGEMENT

Less than a year prior to opening its doors, the building was an empty former Comcast call center.

While perhaps better known for residential and retail projects in the region, Wilmington-area development firm Capano Management owns and manages a number of multi-tenant office buildings around northern Delaware. It acquired the former call center at 300 Wakefield Drive in 2019 for about $3.65 million.

Bill Krapf, chief development officer of LC Construction, the subsidiary construction arm of Capano, told Delaware Business Times that it took “a Herculean effort” to get the project done in time for students to occupy the building.

Leaders of the roughly 600-student school were looking for a new home after outgrowing its former facility at the Barley Mill Plaza west of Wilmington. The dual-language charter school serves bilingual, biliterate and multicultural children in grades K-5.

The school approached Capano in the summer of 2021 and negotiations progressed quickly, Krapf said. Antonia Alonso leaders selected the site for its desirable location in the Christina School District as well as the large size that the school could grow into. For Capano, however, converting the Class A office space into a school for elementary students was not something they had really considered.

“After meeting the Alonso sisters and just feeling their energy, both Louis [Capano III] and I knew it was a project that we wanted to be involved in, if at all possible,” Krapf added.

But converting a 115,000-square-foot call center with wide open spaces into a functioning school amid a supply chain crunch was no small feat. They ordered rooftop heating and air conditioning units for the school in January 2022, when plans were still in the preliminary stages.

The units arrived in July with just a few weeks to spare before students would be arriving for the 2022-23 school year, Krapf said.

“By the beginning of July, there were definitely some nerves about their arrival,” he recalled, noting they had received several delays along the way.

Like most contractors, electrical cabling has also been a difficult product to source, so Krapf challenged his team to find solutions.

“I had tasked the design team with making sure we reused as many of the existing electrical panels as possible. That was another saving grace for us,” he said.

The facility off Chapman Road gives the school enough space to grow into a K-8 program, beginning with its first sixth grade class this year. Antonia Alonso has a 15-year lease at the property, giving assurances to landlord and tenant alike in a difficult commercial market.

For Krapf, the charter school was another example of how commercial real estate owners will likely have to reimagine some of their office spaces and find new uses in the post-pandemic era.

“I think we have to look at it that way, right? Otherwise, we’d be staring at vacant buildings. So, we’re going to have to get creative,” he said.

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