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January 30, 2013

Charter's landlord out $1 million-plus

GCACS building up for 'lease or sale'

Three weeks after the Gloucester Community Arts Charter School’s early and unexpected closure, the landlord of the former school building in Blackburn Industrial Park estimates he is out more than $1 million in rent as he begins the search for a new tenant.

Mick Lafata, who owns and manages several properties, including the charter school site at 2 Blackburn Drive, said Tuesday he places no blame on charter school officials, though he wishes the state could step in to help pay the five year lease signed by charter board trustees. The state is not responsible for paying the remaining 30 months of the lease at the cost of $35,000 per month, he said.

”There’s nothing I can do,” Lafata said. “I have to chalk this up as a company came in, they signed the lease, they went belly up, and I’m stuck with the lease.”

Charter students, parents and officials were shocked when the state’s Department of Elementary and Secondary Education revoked the school’s charter 2 1/2 years short of the typically granted five year start-up terms, but Lafata also took a hit behind the scenes. The landlord said he had trusted that the school, whose concept he fully supported, would flourish. He said he had been sure that the school would remain open during at least the five-year start-up period covered by the charter and the lease.

”I knew it would be a risk going into the second (five-year lease term), but I never in my wildest dreams thought they’d drop the ball in the first five years,” Lafata said.

Charter school Board of Trustees Chairman James Caviston, who has frequently expressed thanks for Lafata’s leniency and sacrifices, said he “feels very badly” that the state’s decision to revoke the charter also affected Lafata and caught him off guard.

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