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One City Schools takes next step in opening charter school on WPS campus

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One City's new building

1707 W. Broadway, known as the ‘Nordby’ building on the WPS campus, will be transformed into a school this fall after a purchase from One City Schools.

One City Schools, a Madison-based nonprofit charter school, is one step closer to opening a k-12 campus along W. Broadway in Monona.

The charter school was given zoning approval from the city’s plan commission July 12 to move in and renovate a four-story 157,000-square-foot office building at 1707 W. Broadway.

Kaleem Caire, founder and CEO of One City Schools, announced the school’s $12 million purchase of the former WPS Health Solutions building in March of this year.

“We were looking for a site that would allow us to stay on the south side [of Madison], and we needed a permanent home,” Caire said of the decision to expand from Madison into Monona. “The WPS property came on the market in November, we saw it in December and immediately got with our broker.”

He said initial worries about the building’s size were quickly dismissed.

“My first thought was, ‘this is too big for us,’ but we started having conversations with WPS and they seemed keen on having a neighbor like us on the property,” said Caire.

Caire founded the charter school in 2014, saying he wanted to create a positive space for youth in underprivileged communities to feel empowered in education. Growing up in Madison without much help from his parents, Caire said he empathizes with kids in under-served areas of the city.

One City pre-school began in 2015 with only six students. The school was first housed in the educational wing of Fountain of Life Church in Madison, but moved to its current Fischer Street location when the student population grew beyond 16 kids.

Three years later in 2018, the school expanded even further. One City is now home to more than 200 students, with plans to triple that in the new Monona building.

ConstructionSchool staff have plans to add classrooms and a gymnasium, among other additions like new signage and bicycle racks, though some renovations will be on pause until the school’s second phase of construction is approved by the plan commission.

Plan Commission Chair and City Alder Nancy Moore said that although One City was seeking immediate approval for all phases of construction on July 12, commission members have only approved the first phase.

She also said the commission approved the development under a few conditions.

“One City had some details, like where the bike racks might go and how the traffic flow might work, that weren’t completely buttoned up,” Moore said. “Like we do with a lot of developments, we approved their proposal with the recognition that they’ll have to come back to us again for some of those more minor details.”

TaxesTaxes have been another point of discussion among commission members, city officials and One City staff.

Because One City Schools, a 501c3 nonprofit organization, will be taking over a building previously owned by WPS, a for-profit entity, Moore said there are still some tax-related issues that have yet to be ironed out. Nonprofit organizations are typically exempt from paying property taxes, and One City is no exception.

“This obviously has an impact on our taxes, and it’s not up to the plan commission to weigh in on that, that’s not part of our responsibilities, but it is within the city council’s responsibility,” said Moore, who has served on city council since 2017.

Moore confirmed that One City staff told the plan commission they intend to meet with Monona Mayor Mary O’Connor and City Administrator Bryan Gadow to, “work out a payment plan in lieu of taxes.”

“That’s what we anticipated doing all along when [One City] first came forward and first offered to do that, and the city certainly welcomes their interest in that,” said Moore.

One City currently only serves grades 4k through second grade, but will begin to add third, fourth, and fifth grade at the end of this year, followed by grades six to 10 in 2022, grade 11 in 2023, and finally conclude with grade 12 in 2024.

The charter school will officially open its doors to students in Monona this fall.

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