Independence Academy move delayed for now

School comes up short in its bid for grant to pay for new building

Independence Academy has to come up with a new plan after the District 51 charter school failed to obtain a state grant that would have helped pay for a new building for the K-8 institution.

Independence Academy Principal Damon Lockhart said the school ended up 10th in a ranking of projects being considered for funding this year from a Colorado Department of Education grant program, Building Excellent Schools Today (BEST). The grant ran out of funding for 2013 after the sixth project.

Lockhart said the school will re-apply for the grant in March. The grant would have paid up to $8 million that would have been used to build a new Independence Academy building. The school has saved $2 million for the potential project as well.

“We’re optimistic we’re going to be successful. They really liked the project,” Lockhart said, referring to the BEST reviewers.

District 51 School Board members adopted a resolution in April directing staff to discuss selling district-owned land to Independence Academy at Matchett Park in north Grand Junction so the school could construct a new building there.

The academy currently is housed at 600 N. 14th St. in the former Lincoln Park Elementary building. The district would like to use that building for other uses, though, according to former District 51 Chief Operations Officer Melissa Callahan DeVita.

A possible use for the building includes moving The Opportunity Center there from a rented building, DeVita said.

District 51 School Board members approved a one-year lease extension to keep Independence Academy in its current home through at least next summer, but Lockhart said not getting the grant now may mean the school has to request another extension to buy more time before a move into a new or existing building.

Lockhart said he doesn’t believe it’s possible for the growing school to buy its current building from the district and renovate it. So his options are to look for a building to buy and turn into a school, which he said would be difficult with the way most buildings are configured, or to hope the grant comes through next year so construction can move forward.

If construction money comes through, Lockhart said he would like to build a two-story building similar to Chipeta Elementary. He said Independence Academy is looking for supporters, community partners and people who may be interested in starting a foundation or a capital campaign to help meet construction fundraising goals. Anyone interested in donating or volunteering can visit the school’s website at

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