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43 entrepreneurs who are changing the world
2007 Social Capitalist Winner

Civic Builders

New York, NY
Year founded: 2002
CEO: David Umansky


“As we continue to create new educational opportunities for New York City families, one of our biggest challenges is identifying and securing space to house new schools.” —New York City Schools Chancellor Joel Klein on September 22, 2004.

Civic Builders creates an environment where great charter school operators can thrive. It supports the charter school movement by taking on one of the largest obstacles to charter school success: real estate. As a non-profit facilities developer, Civic provides high quality charter schools with modern low-cost facilities. By relieving charter schools of the burden of navigating an extremely complex and competitive real estate marketplace, Civic enables school administrators to focus time and resources on the important work of educating children.

Civic works towards the day that equal educational opportunities exist for all New York City school children. For many in underserved communities, charter schools play a critical role in pioneering educational innovations and ensuring that children receive the levels of quality instruction, attention, and resources they deserve. Civic’s work supports individual charter school success, and its development strategies positively influence larger educational reform efforts.


The New York City real estate market is complex and competitive, and school administrators are typically unprepared to deal with its wide-ranging trials. Not only are those administrators short of the reserves and risk tolerance, but they lack the real estate expertise and access to needed affordable capital funds. Civic staff, with backgrounds in the real estate and financial services sectors, brings efficiency and cost savings to facilities planning and development. With capital from a variety of sources, including private philanthropy, the New York City Department of Education, commercial lenders, community development lenders, and other city, state and federal government subsidies, Civic has a particularly strong portfolio, which allows it to offer schools affordable facilities at well below market rents.

Civic’s first project was completed in 2004. It converted a sausage factory into a 24,000 square foot state-of-the-art education facility for Bronx Charter School for the Arts. Bronx Arts enlisted Civic to take on the project because it felt unqualified to deal with the challenges inherent to finding and funding space. Seasoned in the ins and outs of New York City real estate, Civic took the lead, managing the entire project renovation. Civic delivered the school—on time and on budget—for the opening of the 2004 school year. Today, 280 students from kindergarten through fifth grade call Bronx Arts home.


Thus far, Civic has in development (completed or underway) 257,000 square feet of educational space, translating into 2,376 student seats. This includes three major projects, which have been completed and two additional projects, which are currently in development. In total, this is $117 million of real estate.

By year-end 2007, Civic plans to have in development or completed a ten building, 432,000 square foot $199 MM portfolio, serving 4,459 students in poor urban neighborhoods. Beyond that timeline, Civic will continue to expand its operations to serve more New York City neighborhoods in need. Working together with the community, city, and state government, and the best charter school operators, Civic will continue to find facilities solutions for charter schools so great educators can focus on the bottom line: education.

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