Fresco Arts Academy, which has 119 middle and high school students in performing and visual arts, expects to become the newest magnet school in the state's largest district by fall.
Fresco, formerly called Arts West, has not been able to pay its way on its $8,000-a-year tuition since it opened seven years ago.
"(There) was a significant amount of funding beyond tuition," said Tommy Ahlquist, a school director and the chief operations officer of Gardner Company, which developed Eighth & Main, the new Downtown Boise building that houses Zions Bank.
Ahlquist declined to provide details. The school's 2011 nonprofit tax return shows expenses exceeding revenues by $602,568 in 2010-11 and $40,468 in 2011-12 - before Ahlquist, along with Gardner CEO Christian Gardner and Scentsy owners Orville and Heidi Thompson, took control of the school. They created their own nonprofit to run it about two years ago. Ahlquist's children have attended school there.
Meridian Superintendent Linda Clark said the takeover means her district will get another specialty school, expanding choices for parents. Meridian already has four arts-based elementary schools and arts programs in middle and high schools. Fresco would be the district's only performing arts school.
Ahlquist built the school at 3467 W. Flint Drive as part of Eagle Island Crossing on State Street, not far from Eagle High School.
Meridian announced the planned takeover - which still needs trustee approval - on Thursday, just three weeks after it asked voters to approve a $14 million-a-year levy for two years. Clark has been warning parents that the district doesn't have extra money for new programs.
Clark said Thursday that she would cover the academy's costs by reallocating district money and using additional state revenue to be generated by the increased enrollment the academy's students will bring.
Most school employees and students learned of the takeover Thursday. Ahlquist and Meridian administrators met with Fresco's staff in the afternoon.
"We have wrestled with ways to ensure the long-term success of the vision and programs that have been so successful and more importantly changed the lives of so many," Fresco directors wrote in a letter to staff, parents and students. "This opportunity will provide that solution."
There was concern for the future and a bit of sadness among some students.
"This is probably the best school I've ever been to," said Holland Brooks, 14, who is studying musical theater.
"I don't want it to change too much," said Brooklyn Kemmsies, 15, who is studying visual arts and drums.
Fresco's students will be grandfathered into the public school, which could expand to about 180 students, Clark said. But she would not guarantee the district will keep all of the school's programs. That will depend on student support.
Students who stay obviously will no longer have to pay tuition. New students would have to audition and could be placed in a lottery if there is not enough space. "This is a school for highly skilled performers," Clark said.
Fresco's 29 employees will be given an opportunity to apply for jobs within the district, Clark said. Public schools require that teachers be state certified; private schools do not. About half of Fresco's faculty lack certification, officials said.
Fresco directors agreed to donate all of the school's equipment to the district. "We don't have to design this from the ground up," Clark said.
Fresco and Meridian are negotiating about the buildings. Fresco has two structures totaling 25,000 square feet. Meridian can't afford to buy them now, Clark said.
Bill Roberts: 377-6408,Twitter: @IDS_BillRoberts