Updated plans, detailed renderings of St. Augustine Prep released

School leaders selected, big-name partners announced [PHOTO GALLERY]

Plans for St. Augustine Preparatory Academy, a recently approved voucher school on the south side of Milwaukee that could become one of the city’s largest in the next 10 years, are taking shape.

New details were announced at Discovery World Tuesday during an event organized by school leaders to celebrate the beginning of the first phase of construction.

A school superintendent has been selected, an elementary school principal has been hired and a construction company has been chosen. In addition, Marquette University, the Milwaukee School of Engineering and Wheaton Franciscan Healthcare will provide input to St. Augustine staff as curriculum is developed for students interested in pursuing careers in health care and engineering.

The school is the passion project of Gus Ramirez, executive chairman of Waukesha-based Husco International. On Tuesday, Ramirez said he and his family will commit $70 million toward construction and operating costs for the school over the next 10 years.

“We have made exciting progress the last three years moving from idea to land purchases, to school design and construction,” Ramirez said. “Milwaukee’s children need additional educational options, and we will continue working intensely to create what we believe will be one of Wisconsin’s best educational institutions which will serve as a model for others in Milwaukee and around the country.”

Alfonso Carmona, currently principal of Robert Healy Elementary School, a high-performing public school on Chicago’s south side, has been selected to become superintendent of St. Augustine. He will oversee both the elementary school and high school.

Nathan Carlberg, formerly vice principal of Rocketship Southside Community Prep at 3003 W Cleveland Ave. in Milwaukee, was hired last summer to become principal of St. Augustine’s kindergarten-through-eighth-grade elementary school.

Pewaukee-based VJS Construction Services has been selected to build the school facilities.

St. Augustine Prep will be built in two phases over the next decade and eventually enroll up to 2,000 students. The first phase of construction on a four-story, 180,000-square-foot building, which is underway now, is expected to be completed by the summer of 2017 and will cost an estimated $50 million. The first phase will include classrooms, a gymnasium and a cafeteria with enough space to accommodate up to 1,000 K-12 students and 50-65 full- and part-time staff.

School leaders expect an initial enrollment of 500 students in 2017 and plan to enroll more than 1,000 by 2021.

The school received final approval from the city on March 17. It will be located on a 10-acre site bordered by the Kinnickinnic River to the south and Interstate 94 to the east at 2607 S. 5th St.

Carmona said he had been recruited for months to become superintendent of the new school, but did not fall in love with the project until he and his wife toured the south side neighborhood where it will be built after he drove up to Milwaukee to interview for the position.

“We decided on our way back to Chicago to drive by the site, to drive through the neighborhood,” Carmona said. “That was it. That was the end of the conversation for us. Driving through the neighborhood; looking at the needs of the neighborhood. I honestly didn’t know how low performance was among students in Milwaukee. It is my time to dedicate the next several years to a neighborhood that certainly needs better schools.”

Once the first building reaches capacity in the mid-2020s, Ramirez plans to build a $30 million, 125,000 square-foot addition that could accommodate another 1,000 students. In total, both phases are expected to cost around $80 million to complete. The Ramirez family will contribute $70 million, and the remaining costs will be paid for by other contributors.

Athletics and health care

In addition to developing what Ramirez, Carmona and Carlberg described as a rigorous academic curriculum for the school, they are also determined to create a top-notch athletics program. They have also already secured a health care provider to over services at an in-school clinic.

Wheaton Franciscan Healthcare, which was recently acquired by Ascension Health, will provide medical services at a clinic inside the school and also develop a health and wellness curriculum for each grade.

St. Augustine will partner with the Schroeder YMCA Swim Team to teach introductory swimming at the school’s planned natatorium and coach competitive club and high school swim teams.

Husco CEO Austin Ramirez, Gus Ramirez’s son, has been involved with fundraising for the school. He said the goal is to develop a premier urban swim team at St. Augustine within five years.

Austin Ramirez was a gold medal winner for team USA at the 1998 World Aquatics Championships in Perth, Australia.

“Swimming teachers character, perseverance and grit,” Austin Ramirez said. “These are lifelong attributes that contribute to successful personal and professional lives.”

Carmona said the school will be built around four core areas: Faith, family, athletics and academics.

“I know the importance of sports,” Carmona said. “I know how important it is to not only get the students more disciplined and to learn teamwork, but also to get students to learn about leadership and how they can actually affect their own trajectory.”

St. Augustine prep leaders said they will host informational sessions to educate community members about the school. The dates, times and locations of those meetings have not been announced.

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Ben Stanley, former BizTimes Milwaukee reporter.

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