Sal Lupoli’s Riverwalk complex in Lawrence has a new tenant — Bradford Christian Academy — and the school’s students and staff could not be happier.
The new location is a “game changer” for the private school, said President and Head of School Vicki Kennedy.
Founded 16 years ago in Haverhill, the school is now able to expand and have students learn in an environment with 20 modern classrooms, three labs and space for a library and offices. Kennedy said the space formerly housed a Northern Essex Community College program. NECC officials said they no longer needed the Riverwalk space for the college’s adult basic education program. Those programs moved to the college’s Lawrence campus.
“The overall environment is so much more supportive of education: It’s light, it’s bright, it’s open, and the kids feel more at home,” Kennedy said of the 25,000-square-foot location at 360 Merrimack St. which first welcomed 110 students in the academy’s grades seven through 12 on Nov. 30.
The students began the school year at Temple Emanu-El in Haverhill, where the academy had leased space for the past four years before making the move to Lawrence.
Bradford Christian’s main school, located in the former Knipe School building on Oxford Avenue in Haverhill’s Ward Hill area, still houses the academy’s lower school, which serves 93 children in kindergarten through grade six. All Bradford Christian students attend class in person unless their circumstances during the coronavirus crisis dictate a need for remote learning, Kennedy said.
Danisha Hildalgo, a senior at Bradford Christian, is among the students enjoying the new home for the academy’s upper grades.
“It’s a very productive and professional space that feels like home,’’ said Hildalgo, who lives in Lawrence. “We can be creative and express ourselves, which is valuable, especially during this time.’’
Sophomore Eli Blouin, who serves as the school’s student chaplain, agreed.
“This space was made to be a learning environment,” Blouin said of the space in Lawrence.
The academy has steadily expanded since it first opened in 2004 with students in grades six through nine attending classes at the former Knipe School, which it purchased from Haverhill after Knipe closed as a public school. In 2008, Bradford Christian relocated its high school grades to the Northpoint Bible College campus at 320 S. Main St. in Bradford — the former Bradford College.
In 2016, Bradford Christian’s high school moved to classrooms at Haverhill’s Temple Emanu-El that were vacated more than a decade ago when Solomon Schechter Day School moved from the temple to Andover. The academy’s grades seven and eight were eventually moved to the temple, as well.
Kennedy said the academy looked for its own space for four years, but nothing that was available felt right.
“We didn’t want to be in a shared space any more,’’ she said. “We wanted to be in a space of our own that really supported what we do. We looked and looked and had no luck. Then about a year ago, a board member ... and I had the honor of meeting Sal Lupoli. We had a shared vision that day of education, because we learned that Lupoli Companies is all about building communities and innovation, and those things take education.”
Lupoli said he too sees value in the partnership.
“When we heard Bradford Christian Academy was looking for a new home for their school, we immediately thought that Riverwalk could be a perfect fit for them,” he said. “I knew it would not be easy to create lease terms that would work for their budget, but I wanted to make it happen in any way I could. Access to quality education is something I feel very strongly about, and I am happy to have them here on campus.”