The Loan Fund is always looking for ways to connect with and improve Delmarva communities. This past year, the Loan Fund had a unique opportunity to work with a for-profit organization for a community cause. Montessori education is considered to be one of the best, but it comes at a price.
For many of the children in the Wilmington area, this would never be an option for their education. The Board of Directors of Wilmington Montessori wanted to change that. They wanted to provide an opportunity for all children in Delaware to experience this type of education for free.
With the help of Innovative Schools, an organization that provides services and financing to charter schools, they decided to open the First State Montessori Academy (FSMA). Charter schools don’t typically like to own the buildings they are in. Usually, schools lease their buildings, so they can stay in the education business, not the real estate business.
Karl Wagner, the Vice Chair of Innovative Schools, and a believer in the Montessori system, knew they needed a landlord and a lender that were willing to underwrite their credit and the building. Having no past experience or track
record as a school, it wouldn’t be easy. For the landlord portion, Karl turned to the real estate company he worked for, Buccini/Pollin Group (BPG). With the help of BPG, they found an investor and began to look for possible sites
to house their school.
They found the perfect location in Wilmington. The building was a previous MBNA daycare / preschool facility. It is a very well constructed building, with high ceilings, nice molding and was already outfitted with classrooms. Bank of America took ownership of the building after consolidating with MBNA and they were looking to sell. BPG was planning to purchase and renovate the building and lease it to the First State Montessori Academy. The school had its charter approved by the state and they moved to closing.
Late in the process there was a complication. The real estate investment company that was planning to provide the financing backed out of the deal. It was July. The school needed to complete the renovations and receive their certificate of occupancy prior to the opening on September 1st. They already had 275 registered students. There wasn’t much time to find a new lender before the school year began. If the school didn’t open on time, their charter would be revoked.
BPG had already worked with NCALL on the Light Up the Queen Theater in Wilmington. Karl Wagner contacted us about lending them the money to buy the school; they needed over $3 million.
According to Karl, “There was no other lender that could do this deal. It took NCALL believing in the school to make this happen. Conventional lenders have trouble underwriting specialized buildings, plus this was a charter school. They have great staff, but they had no track record.”
NCALL and its participating lenders were able to close on the loan within 30 days. The renovations were able to be completed on time and the students started their classes in the new school in September. “NCALL was fast and efficient, and the people are so pleasant to work with,” says Karl. “I deal with lenders all day every day. This is a better experience than I have had with commercial lenders. They focus on what’s important.”
NCALL is a certified Community Development Financial Institution (CDFI), certified by the U.S. Department of Treasury, and its Loan Fund has been providing community development lending opportunities and financial services primarily to nonprofit borrowers throughout the Delmarva Peninsula since 2004.
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