Jeramey Jannene
Eyes on Milwaukee

St. Augustine Building Elementary School On Entire City Block

$49 million building will create city's largest school campus, serving 2,400 pupils.

By - Jun 8th, 2022 08:25 pm
St. Augustine Preparatory Academy Elementary School. Rendering by Korb + Associates Architects.

St. Augustine Preparatory Academy Elementary School. Rendering by Korb + Associates Architects.

Construction is underway on St. Augustine Preparatory Academy‘s new $49 million elementary school.

The private choice school, created by Gus Ramirez, opened a K4 through 12th grade complex on a former industrial site at S. 6th St. and W. Harrison Ave. in 2017. Now it’s adding a dedicated elementary school just across the street (W. Harrison Ave.) on an entire city block. When completed, it will create the largest single campus school in the city.

The new, 123,000-square-foot building will add space for 900 more students, growing its capacity to 2,400 students.

“We have been on that path since day one,” said Ramirez, the founder of HUSCO International, at a ceremonial groundbreaking ceremony held inside the school’s auditorium. “Milwaukee has an unbelievable need for human resources and Milwaukee is not producing them. The school system is not producing them.”

Construction is expected to be completed in time for the 2023-24 school year.

The student body will grow at every grade level said school CEO Abby Andrietsch. “Our elementary school will grow about 30%, the middle school will grow a little bit more than 30% and the high school will grow about 45%.” Andrietsch, who is an education policy veteran and Ramirez’ daughter, said the strategy allows students to enter Augustine Prep at 6th and 9th grade without needing to have started with the school in kindergarten. “We don’t want to be a place you can’t get into if you didn’t come in K4.”

To create the site for the elementary school, an entire block of approximately 30 homes was purchased for a total of approximately $2 million. It is bounded by W. Arthur Ave., W. Harrison Ave., S. 5th St. and S. 5th Pl. The project was originally to fill only half the block when it was publicly revealed in 2019.

“We were able to purchase a few pieces of land we didn’t think we would be able to purchase,” said Andrietsch of the expansion. “The biggest thing it opened up is we are building a 700-seat performing arts center.”

The performing arts space will join a full-sized gymnasium, classrooms, special education spaces, a small gym, rooftop garden and playground in the new building. VJS Construction Services is constructing the new building. Korb + Associates Architects is designing the school.

Andrietsch said the expanded project will be a benefit for other southside institutions.

“It’s not just us. It’s how do we serve and share this building,” she said. “My hope is to see students from schools all around us that we partner with being able to perform there.”

The 225,000-square-foot first phase includes a turf soccer field and Olympic-sized pool that are heavily utilized by community groups.

To create the site, the school acquired three properties from the city for $500 each. The school will make a $20,000 annual pay-in-lieu-of-taxes (PILOT) payment. But it wants one more parcel, a garden plot at the northwest corner of the block.

“We only have one lot that we don’t have, yet,” said Ramirez. “We have a meeting with [Cavalier Johnson] to make that happen.” The Common Council would also need to approve any sale.

Ramirez said it is important that the school is a faith-based system. “We need strong people graduating schools, strong faith, strong set of values,” he said. But the businessman said it comes at a cost of $1,000 per student annually.

The Ramirez family donates millions to the school annually, supplementing the Milwaukee Parental Choice Program’s $8,500 per student voucher. It will cover an estimated 80% of the cost of the new building, with the remainder coming from New Market Tax Credits and private fundraising.

“People talk about public, charter and choice schools,” said Ramirez. “I am going to tell you something, we are all public schools.” However, choice schools are not subject to most state laws on education or overseen by a public school board.

He said all schools have a responsibility to deliver a quality education. “We take this responsibility very seriously,” said Ramirez. Augustine Prep is a leader among choice schools, with a 95% retention rate and a five-star rating from the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction.

The school operates on a four-pillar model that includes faith, family, academics and athletics and arts.

Andrietsch said 91% of the students are of Hispanic descent, but a family-tree research project revealed they can trace their families back to more than 40 different countries. More than 80% of the students come from four neighboring ZIP codes. Eighty-seven percent come from low-income households that qualify for free or reduced lunch. Approximately 8% participate in the school’s special education program.

The existing school building will also be expanded as part of the project. That includes reconfiguring it to host only the middle and high school students, while will yield approximately 5,000 square feet of space that will be used for added athletic facilities and a family engagement center.

For more details on the homes Augustine Prep acquired and demolished, see our January 2021, pre-expansion coverage. Acquisition prices for the private parcels ranged from $20,000 to $230,000, said a school representative. Part of that, the representative said, included making sure a high-enough price was paid so that families that had students at the school were able to be paired with a real estate agent and relocate to other housing in the area.

Why not build the school on the surface parking lot to the east? Andrietsch, with just a few hours left in the school day, looked at her watch and then the parking lot with a laugh. She said parents queue up in a long line of vehicles to pick up students and school staffers are already asking for more space to accommodate the growing student body. The school does not offer door-to-door private busing.



2019 Renderings and Site Plan

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2 thoughts on “Eyes on Milwaukee: St. Augustine Building Elementary School On Entire City Block”

  1. dmkrueger2 says:

    Well done Gus – people are flocking to what you are offering. That’s a sign of an unbroken model.

  2. Mingus says:

    Billionaires often have a vanity calling with a need to “save society” by promoting their own version of religion, economics, the government, and social issues. In Wisconsin they can proselytize students by starting their own school financed by the school choice program at $8500 per student or a total of $20,400,000 when St. Augustine’s is at capacity. This amount is larger than the budgets of most school districts in the State and is simply a government handout for organized religion with almost no accountability standards in comparison with public education. It is persons like Mr. Ramirez who are always working to elect politicians who continually oppose adequate funding of public education

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