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East County's ACE Academy searches for new quarters, future questioned

OUTLOOK PHOTO: JOSH KULLA - ACE Academy student Angel and instructor Katie Hughes discuss flooring installation Wednesday inside one of two tiny houses students currently are building. The Architectural, Construction and Engineering — or ACE — Academy, an East Multnomah County charter high school, is losing its lease and the small school may not survive a relocation.

A public charter school located at 4222 N.E. 158th Ave., the Reynolds School District-sponsored ACE teaches construction and design and draws students from the Centennial, Gresham-Barlow, Parkrose and Reynolds districts. ACE opened in the 2008-09 school year.

“Yes, we are losing our lease and that is unfortunate,” said Jeff Wheeler, project manager of power operations at Portland General Electric Co. and chairman of ACE’s Board of Directors. “We are working hard to see what our options are.”

Because the construction industry is improving, the Carpenters Union needs to use the entire training area of the Pacific Northwest Carpenters Institute (PNCI), where the school shares space, said Linda Florence, Reynolds superintendent, in a report to the Reynolds School Board on Wednesday, Jan. 28.

The carpenters terminated ACE’s lease effective at the end of the 2015-16 school year, and ACE has to find a new home.

Florence, a director on the ACE board, is seeking direction from the Reynolds board on how to deal with the ACE situation.

“Nobody wants to say the word ‘withdraw’ from it (the charter),” Florence said.

Reynolds directors expressed concern about continuing to support the charter school, which is facing the expensive move. ACE also is losing enrollment and operating in the red, Florence told her board.

Diane Whitehead, a Reynolds director, said “with our fiduciary hats on … I would support withdrawal.”

Reynolds director John Lindenthal agreed.

“Unless they can come up with a viable business plan, I also support withdrawal,” he said.

Rick Larson, director of business and operations at the Centennial School District, said “If one or more districts decide not to participate, that is going to make it virtually impossible for ACE to continue.”

The ACE board, which comprises building industry representatives and the superintendents of the four participating school districts, is discussing possibly moving to space at Mt. Hood Community College in Gresham. Remodeling a space at MHCC to accommodate the ACE program would cost around $200,000, Florence told the Reynolds board. Construction equipment, which PNCI was providing, also would have to be purchased.

“The board has members that are looking at the costs of a move, and we are pulling those numbers together,” Wheeler said.

A move to MHCC would require ACE to transfer its charter to the Gresham-Barlow School District because MHCC is located there, Florence noted.

“Should ACE Academy move to a location within the Gresham-Barlow School District’s boundaries, our school board would consider their proposal,” read a statement from the Gresham-Barlow district. “Career technical education (CTE) opportunities are a key part of the educational program we provide to our students. We have a strong partnership with the Center for Advanced Learning (another career-focused charter school) and our schools have a wide variety of CTE classes.

“When a charter school proposal is considered in the (Gresham-Barlow) district, the school board looks for charter schools that would provide unique learning opportunities for our students, would deliver a high quality program, and would be financially self-sustaining,” the statement read.

ACE has 114 students, all juniors and seniors, who attend the two-year program, alternating half days with classes at their home high schools.

The ACE board may decide at a Tuesday, Feb. 9, meeting what options it will try to pursue.

“The move is unfortunate, but we’re doing everything we can to do what’s right for the students, parents and teachers of ACE,” Wheeler said.