Futuro Academy is a lot like many schools. Its mission is to provide a high level of education that helps develop the leaders of tomorrow. But unlike other public schools, Futuro Academy got its start in an empty grocery store. It’s one of the U.S.’s about 8,000 public charter schools. As public schools, they’re free and open to any student. A key difference is that they typically are managed by nonprofits. One of the biggest challenges is finding a facility because they don’t get school buildings from their local school districts, said Mark Medema, managing director for the Charter School Facility Center at the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools. “For the most part, they are out on their own trying to find a place to open up these public schools,” he added.
Futuro Academy opened in 2017 in a portion of a vacant 40,000-square-foot grocery store in East Las Vegas with 115 students in kindergarten and first grade. The school has expanded in phases and now occupies the full building with 460 students from kindergarten through fifth grade. “A lot of the same logic in terms of where you put a grocery store applies to a school,” said Futuro executive director and lead founder Ignacio Prado. The store-turned-school is in a highly visible location near a residential population with ample parking and good accessibility. Though it needed a lot of retrofitting, there was a lot of good existing infrastructure the school could utilize, noted Prado. For example, existing plumbing could serve restrooms and science classrooms, and a grease trap and interceptor made it easy to create a kitchen and cafeteria. The tall ceilings made it easy to run infrastructure, upgrade and reconfigure the store into classrooms. “The building has worked out great,” said Prado. “There were a whole lot of things that were overlaps on what are typically very expensive modifications to buildings that already existed.” In addition, the store itself had been vacant for about five years, and the school has helped revitalize the area.