CENTRAL FALLS, R.I. (AP) — The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation on Tuesday announced a $10 million low-cost loan to help pay for renovations and construction projects that will increase the number of seats in high-performing schools for children in the financially distressed community of Central Falls.
The initiative will benefit five high-performing charter schools that serve the city, and could also help district schools that share space with them, the foundation and city announced. The money will be used to provide low- and no-interest loans and could ultimately be used to get additional loans, estimated at $50 million, for building projects at five to seven schools, officials said.
‘‘School facilities shouldn’t be a barrier to a quality education,’’ Noah Wepman, a portfolio manager for the Gates Foundation, said during a news conference at the Segue Institute for Learning, a charter school in the city.
Mayor James Diossa called the program great news for the 1.3-square-mile city, which is economically depressed and recently emerged from bankruptcy.
‘‘Everyone knows how important education is to this community. The only way we’re going to move forward is through education,’’ he said.
Wepman said the foundation would give the money in the form of a 10-year loan to Civic Builders, a New York-based nonprofit that develops facilities for charter schools. It will then work with the Central Falls District-Charter Collaboration Compact to decide which schools will benefit.
The compact includes Central Falls district schools as well as five charter schools in and around Central Falls that serve city residents: the Blackstone Academy Charter School, Blackstone Valley Prep Mayoral Academy, International Charter School, The Learning Community and Segue Institute for Learning. The district has about 2,800 students with 1,000 more in charters.
The loans will be available only to schools that meet certain benchmarks for success. Central Falls Superintendent Fran Gallo said charter schools will benefit most from the program, but district schools could also get renovations if they share space with charters. She said the need is great.
‘‘We’re in a typical urban setting. We’re cramped for space. We have very poor facilities,’’ she said.
David Umansky, CEO of Civic Builders, said the money would still be insufficient to do all the projects that are needed for schools in the city, but he called it ‘‘a great start.’’