Following a change in how most of its students are chosen, the Charlton School for troubled adolescent girls is building a classroom addition.
The $4.5 million building project was started earlier this month and will allow the private school on Lake Hill Road to offer smaller classes and more individual attention, said Don Marshall, the school’s executive director.
“One of the keys to what works here is our size,” Marshall said.
The work, by Jersen Construction of Waterford, is adding four new classrooms to the existing seven-classroom building, as well as renovating one existing classroom. The project, which also includes installation of a geothermal heating system that will cut the school’s energy costs, is to be finished by August 2015.
The school has sunk $500,000 from its endowment into having the project designed and permitted, and borrowed $4.5 million through the state Dormitory Authority. The school will be reimbursed over 30 years through higher daily charges to students’ home school districts, Marshall said. The home districts, in turn, will be compensated by the state Education Department.
The Charlton School is currently licensed to provide classroom and residential care for 27 girls, although long-term plans call for it to seek permission to teach up to 35 girls.
Marshall said the school, with roots dating back to an orphanage founded on the site in 1895, has seen a transition in recent years as the number of children in foster care in New York state has declined.
Since it became a private school for troubled girls in the 1950s, until about 2009, Marshall said the school relied primarily on placements ordered by family court judges to fill its classrooms.
But with the decline of the foster care population, he said the school began marketing itself directly to school districts, both locally and as far away at New York City and Long Island. School districts place children in the program through their special education committees because of its expertise in dealing with failing, troubled students.
“Charlton School has always been good with the vulnerable kids, the kids more likely to hurt themselves than hurt someone else, the thin-skinned kids with low self-esteem,” Marshall said.
He said the change in where students come from has meant more involvement by parents, who can pressure their local school district for a placement in Charlton.
“They’re smart kids, but they’re failing, so the question is why,” Marshall said. “It can be a lot of emotional problems, early childhood trauma, abuse.”
He said the girls at the school are made to feel safe and given outlets through art, drama and music, as well as traditional academic studies.
“If we can get the kids to work through the issues they have, the academics get better on their own,” he said.
The school also offers students the chance to nurture small animals, as well as an equestrian-therapy program and opportunities to camp out, experience nature and go fishing on its 300-acre grounds.