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Excel Academy Charter School Buys St. Mary’s School Building

October 6, 2011 : The Boston Globe, by Jeremy C. Fox

The Excel Academy Charter School announced this week its purchase of a shuttered East Boston school building from the Catholic Archdiocese of Boston.

The charter school has purchased the 19,000-square-foot building at 58 Moore St. that housed the St. Mary’s Star of the Sea School, as well as an adjacent convent. Excel Academy plans to demolish the convent, completely renovate the school building, and construct a 2,000-square-foot addition.

The work is scheduled to begin this month, and the school is expected to open next fall.

“We’re excited to provide a permanent home closer to the heart of East Boston, and to better integrate the community we serve,” said Dai Ellis, chief executive officer of Excel Academy, in a statement released by the charter school. “We are grateful for the opportunity to acquire this facility and to help turn what used to be a community school building back to its original purpose.”

In an interview early this year, Ellis said the building would allow Excel Academy to leave the cramped quarters of its current location on Saratoga Street.

“The current school is operating in quite a tight space … next to a CVS, so we've been looking around at potential permanent homes for the school,” Ellis said in January.

Excel Academy is a growing network of free, college-preparatory charter schools with the highest MCAS scores of any urban middle school in the state, according to data released last week. It opened its first middle school in East Boston in 2003 and this year opened a second middle school in Chelsea. The state has awarded Excel a charter to open a school for grades five through 12 in Boston next year.

The state Department of Elementary and Secondary Education worked with MassDevelopment, the commonwealth’s finance and development agency, to issue $5 million in bonds to help fund the purchase of the St. Mary's building. Boston Private Bank & Trust Company bought those bonds. Other funds came from the Friends of Excel Academy Charter Schools Inc. and from new market tax credits awarded by Raza Development Corporation and bought by JP Morgan Chase.

“In less than a decade, Excel Academy has received high marks for its college prep curriculum,” said Marty Jones, president and CEO of MassDevelopment, in a statement released by the agency. “The School hopes to open more facilities in the coming years to meet growing demand, and this financing puts Excel on track to expand its rigorous programs.”

The archdiocese abruptly shuttered the St. Mary’s School in 2008, despite an outcry by local families. It had sold the adjoining church, rectory, and hall two years earlier to South Boston photographer Michael Indresano for only $850,000, church documents show. Indresano re-sold the property 20 days later for $2.7 million, creating a controversy that many in the neighborhood are still talking about.

© Copyright 2011 The Boston Globe.