October 19, 2015 — Bill Garrett, president of Cristo Rey Atlanta Jesuit High School, figured it couldn't hurt to ask for a new school building — he just never expected to receive it.
"Nothing kept me up more at night than our location,” he admits of the newly-opened Jesuit high school, predicted to outgrow its midtown location by 2017. And so during a conversation with Atlanta real estate developer Jim Cumming, Garrett simply asked him if he would consider donating the vacant Oxford Industries building downtown. After all, it had 70,000 square feet of space and was conveniently located near so many of the businesses that provided jobs for the students who work for their free tuitions.
The answer he initially received from Mr. Cumming was expected: No. The businessman would think of another way to help the school, but he certainly wouldn't hand over the keys to an entire building. But three days later, after much contemplation, Cumming reconsidered. He agreed to donate a building that would normally cost roughly $750,000 a year just to lease.
The school, which opened August 2014, is part of a national model that provides college preparatory education to high school students from low-income families. Students work in a real-world job one day a week to develop skills and help pay their tuition at the school, and dozens of Atlanta companies and organizations have signed up to hire them.
Students Adrian Rivas and Monique Epps stand with Cristo Rey president Bill Garrett in front of their school's future home.
“We believe firmly in the power of prayer," said Garrett. Through prayer and the generous heart of a successful businessman, a building that could have easily gotten $5 million in today's market will now become the new home for Cristo Rey Jesuit High School.
“The defining moment was when Bill said, ‘I would like for you to come and visit the facility,’” Cumming said. “I went this past spring. I started to get flashbacks from well over 50 years ago when I was in Jesuit schools. I even remember the color of the ties. Here is what occurred to me: ‘This place can change lives.’ I’m watching these kids. If you can change lives, you can change families, and if you change families, you can change communities.
“Bill is an impressive guy, and he’s doing God’s work. Every once in a while there’s a situation when the highest and best use of a property is not defined by the financial yield,” said Cumming.
A capital campaign will soon be underway to renovate the building and have it ready for the 2017-2018 school year. That is when Monique Epps and Adrian Rivas, both pictured above with Bill Garrett, will be seniors.