The Cooper Foundation, the charitable arm of Cooper University Hospital, along with Cooper Chairman George E. Norcross III, have been eyeing the Lanning Square School site at Broadway and Berkley, adjacent to the new Cooper Medical School, since at least February to build a Renaissance School campus. Norcross is a managing partner in the company that owns The Inquirer.
Norcross' brother, Sen. Donald Norcross (D., Camden), wrote the Urban Hope Act legislation, which Gov. Christie signed into law in January. It allows Camden, Newark and Trenton to each build up to four Renaissance Schools, which are similar to charter schools in that they are to be run by a nonprofit and receive most of their funding from public districts.
Renaissance schools, however, are freed from public bidding rules and may use district funds to purchase school land and facilities.
Also, Renaissance Schools must give preference to students in the designated catchment area, which for Lanning Square is defined from Pine Street to Dr. Martin Luther King Boulevard and from Interstate 676 to the Delaware River waterfront. Then, if there is space left, a lottery will be conducted.
The Lanning Square site has sat vacant for several years since the former school was demolished to make room for a new school. More than $10 million has been invested by the state in architectural designs and plans for the school.
Earlier this year, KMS Development Partners, a construction consultant working with the Cooper Foundation, acquired the state Schools Development Authority's drawings and specifications for the "proposed Lanning Square School," whose construction the state pushed off its priority list after Christie came into office in 2010.
If the Cooper/KIPP plan is approved by the Camden City school board, it would be the first Renaissance School project in the state.
The proposed KIPP Cooper Norcross Academy, which would consist of two elementary and middle schools and one high school, would have longer school days and an extended school year. Doctors and nurses from Cooper University Hospital and medical students from Cooper Medical School of Rowan University would have an active role through a variety of mentorship opportunities, according to a Cooper news release.
Phase I of the project, which would include an elementary and middle school, is slated to be completed for the 2014-2015 school year.
The Camden school board is expected to review proposals next week.
Contact Claudia Vargas at 856-779-3917 or firstname.lastname@example.org, or follow on Twitter @InqCVargas. Read her blog, "Camden Flow," at www.philly.com/camden_flow/