EStem high school on UALR cam­pus set to open Aug. 15

Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette - - NORTHWEST ARKANSAS - CYN­THIA HOW­ELL

The new eStem Public Char­ter High School on the cam­pus of the Univer­sity of Arkansas at Lit­tle Rock is a merger of 1940s pump­kin-or­ange brick and 21st Cen­tury sleek black metal and tinted glass.

The new 10th-through-12th grade school, set to open Aug. 15 to 475 stu­dents, is dis­tinc­tive in Arkansas and in the na­tion in both its con­struc­tion and its part­ner­ship with higher ed­u­ca­tion.

“To us it’s very un­usual. When we started talk­ing about this, we couldn’t find any­body that had this — par­tic­u­larly this setup,” eStem Chief Ex­ec­u­tive Of­fi­cer John Ba­con said about the lo­ca­tion of a tax­payer-sup­ported, open-en­roll­ment char­ter high school on an ur­ban public univer­sity cam­pus.

Next month’s open­ing of the new cam­pus, which was ap­proved by the state in 2016 over the ob­jec­tions of the Lit­tle Rock School Dis­trict, be­gins an era of ex­pan­sion away from down­town Lit­tle Rock for the 11-year-old eStem sys­tem. (The name stands for eco­nom­ics, sci­ence, tech­nol­ogy, en­gi­neer­ing and math­e­mat­ics.)

Where there were once three eStem cam­puses in two build­ings for 1,462 stu­dents, by July 2018 there will be five cam­puses — two el­e­men­taries, two ju­nior highs and one high school — with an over­all state-set en­roll­ment cap of 3,844 stu­dents. Of that, the cap for the high school is 1,125 to be reached by 2026-27.

The high school is one of two new open-en­roll­ment char­ter high school build­ings open­ing next month. Aca­demics Plus char­ter sys­tem, once a cam­pus com­prised of pre­fab­ri­cated build­ings and a for­mer strip mall, is putting the fin­ish­ing touches on its own newly con­structed Maumelle Char­ter High.

EStem High’s blend­ing of old and new con­struc­tion is ev­i­dent both in­side and out of the new build­ing, which is eas­ily vis­i­ble to north-bound passers-by on Univer­sity Av­enue.

The school’s south-side en­trance, of­fice space and class­rooms are newly built and en­cased in black metal, gray brick and tinted glass. Long white pen­dant lights — think el­e­gant sta­lac­tites — glow through the dark glass to show­case the main en­trance.

In con­trast, class­rooms on the north side of the first- and sec­ond-floor hall­ways are the rein­car­na­tion of the univer­sity’s Lar­son Hall, one of the univer­sity cam­pus’ orig­i­nal build­ings.

While the mid-cen­tury Lar­son class­rooms have been made new, the ex­te­rior brick walls of Lar­son Hall still stand.

The older build­ing’s south ex­te­rior wall and win­dows are now in­te­rior walls and win­dows — adding tex­ture and an ex­panse of or­ange brick to the school’s east-west pas­sage­ways. On the sec­ond floor, a long row of clear-story win­dows top the or­ange brick, cre­at­ing an airy, light high-ceil­ing walk­way.

Ba­con said the black metal and gray brick were se­lected for the new con­struc­tion be­cause the school plan­ners were un­able to find a sat­is­fac­tory shade of or­ange brick to add to Lar­son Hall.

“It was im­pos­si­ble to match,” Ba­con said. “Pump­kin-brick has changed over the years, ap­par­ently. I said I didn’t want it to look like we tried to match it and didn’t.”

The new cam­pus was re­cently teem­ing with hard-hat­ted work­ers who were ad­just­ing fix­tures, in­stalling car­pet and as­sem­bling fur­ni­ture in prepa­ra­tion for turn­ing the build­ing over to school op­er­a­tors by the end of the month.

“We’re on pace to get there. It’s mov­ing fast,” Ba­con said over the roar of power tools.

One of Ba­con’s fa­vorite fea­tures of the new cam­pus is spa­cious­ness of the class­rooms and lab­o­ra­to­ries as com­pared to spa­ces at eStem’s other cam­puses — a for­mer fed­eral re­serve bank and a for­mer news­pa­per head­quar­ters.

“The Arkansas Gazette build­ing and fed­eral re­serve build­ing were never meant to house class­rooms in schools,” he said. “We made them into schools. In the Gazette build­ing, we have tons of col­umns that are ran­domly placed in class­rooms. The fed­eral re­serve build­ing was a lit­tle eas­ier to make it into class­rooms, but some of the rooms feel a lit­tle tight.

“You walk into these class­rooms, they are huge,” he said.

Plans drawn by WER Architects/Plan­ners call for 31 class­rooms and lab­o­ra­to­ries in the high school build­ing with the even­tual use of as many as 15 more rooms in the univer­sity’s ad­join­ing Ross Hall.

The new cam­pus — built by Eco Con­struc­tion Inc.— is com­ing to­gether at a cost of about $13.5 mil­lion, Ba­con said.

The money, Ba­con said, is a no-in­ter­est loan from the Wal­ton Fam­ily Foun­da­tion of Bentonville that will be re­paid over 20 years.

The cost of new high schools else­where in Pu­laski County are greater.

A new Jack­sonville High is be­ing built for about $63 mil­lion and 1,400 stu­dents, for ex­am­ple. The Pu­laski County Spe­cial Dis­trict is build­ing a new $50 mil­lion Mills High School for 750. The Lit­tle Rock Dis­trict is seek­ing ways to fi­nance a $90 mil­lion high school with a ca­pac­ity for 2,250 stu­dents. The North Lit­tle Rock dis­trict is op­er­at­ing a largely new school for 3,000 that cost about $109 mil­lion, in­clud­ing fur­nish­ings.

The dif­fer­ence in large part is that the new eStem High con­struc­tion does not in­clude a cafe­te­ria and kitchen, a li­brary, an au­di­to­rium, or very much in ca­reer-ed­u­ca­tion space, which are fea­tures in the other schools. Nor does the eStem con­struc­tion in­clude an arena, a prac­tice gym, foot­ball sta­dium, track, or fields for soc­cer, base­ball and soft­ball, and new park­ing spa­ces.

Ba­con said the eStem ath­letic teams — bas­ket­ball, soc­cer, base­ball and soft­ball — have typ­i­cally used courts and fields wher­ever they could find them, in­clud­ing some of the Univer­sity of Arkansas at Lit­tle Rock fa­cil­i­ties.

That will con­tinue, he said, but with the lo­ca­tion of the high school on the univer­sity cam­pus, ac­cess to a range the univer­sity re­sources — ath­letic and oth­er­wise — is ex­pected to in­crease, Ba­con said.

Presten Slay­den, the univer­sity’s in­terim vice chan­cel­lor for stu­dent af­fairs since Feb. 1, spear­headed the univer­sity’s work with eStem.

Slay­den called the prospect of the univer­sity en­gag­ing with on-cam­pus high school stu­dents new and ex­cit­ing.

“Our hope is that they would see us as that op­por­tu­nity for a con­tin­u­a­tion in their col­lege ex­pe­ri­ence,” Slay­den said.

The univer­sity has long part­nered with eStem in pro­vid­ing con­cur­rent high school/col­lege credit cour­ses to the high school stu­dents, he said. Those classes are taught in the high school by univer­sity staff or by eStem teach­ers who have met re­quire­ments for teach­ing a col­lege-level course.

That op­por­tu­nity for con­cur­rent high school and col­lege credit will be ex­panded this year with an in­creased num­ber of avail­able cour­ses and ad­di­tional sec­tions or class pe­ri­ods taught, Slay­den and Ba­con both said.

Tuition will be $50 per course per se­mes­ter, Ba­con said. Com­ing later will be dual en­roll­ment op­por­tu­ni­ties in which eStem stu­dents can take cour­ses else­where on the univer­sity cam­pus at a one half the reg­u­lar tuition for a col­lege course, Ba­con said.

High school class sched­ules have been ad­justed to ac­com­mo­date the new lo­ca­tion and the new op­por­tu­ni­ties for stu­dents to earn col­lege cred­its while still in high school, Ba­con said. And, while the eStem sys­tem has tra­di­tion­ally started the new school year in July, the high school is mov­ing this year to a more tra­di­tional mid-Au­gust open­ing date to bet­ter mesh with the start of the col­lege se­mes­ter.

A fur­ther nod to the univer­sity part­ner­ship, the high school will now fea­ture a col­lege-style class sched­ule, with some classes meet­ing for 90 min­utes each on Mon­days, Wed­nes­days and Fri­days and other cour­ses on Tues­days and Thurs­days, also 90 min­utes each in du­ra­tion . At the be­gin­ning of the sec­ond se­mes­ter, the cour­ses will flip, with the Mon­day, Wed­nes­day and Fri­day cour­ses be­com­ing Tues­day and Thurs­day classes, and vice versa, Ba­con said, to pro­vide equal time for each sub­ject.

Slay­den helped rep­re­sent the univer­sity in the devel­op­ment of poli­cies and pro­ce­dures that de­fine the univer­sity-school part­ner­ship that deal not only for the con­cur­rent and dual cred­its but also with stu­dent con­duct re­quire­ments, iden­ti­fi­ca­tion cards, food ser­vice, and park­ing plus ac­cess to the univer­sity’s book­store and li­brary.

An 11-page me­moran­dum of un­der­stand­ing from last De­cem­ber en­ables eStem stu­dents to pur­chase food from cam­pus ven­dors or par­tic­i­pate in the U.S. Depart­ment of Agri­cul­ture’s sub­si­dized free- and re­duced-price meal pro­gram in a room of the Don­aghey Stu­dent Cen­ter.

Much of the em­ployee and stu­dent park­ing will be in the lot in front of Univer­sity Plaza to the south of the univer­sity cam­pus where the Big Lots store is, Ba­con said. A stu­dent pick-up and dropoff car line will be be­hind the Univer­sity Plaza of­fices and stores, re­quir­ing stu­dents to walk across a park­ing lot and Univer­sity Drive to reach the school’s front door.

While the eStem and Univer­sity of Arkansas at Lit­tle Rock part­ner­ship has some unique fea­tures, there are other school-univer­sity part­ner­ships, Ba­con said.

Arkansas Bap­tist Col­lege, a small pri­vate col­lege near down­town Lit­tle Rock hosts the Premier High School of Lit­tle Rock, a small char­ter school for stu­dents who have been un­suc­cess­ful in grad­u­at­ing from tra­di­tional schools. Louisiana State Univer­sity at Ba­ton Rouge op­er­ates its own Univer­sity Lab­o­ra­tory School for kinder­garten through 12th grades, Ba­con said. West­ern Ken­tucky Univer­sity at Bowl­ing Green is host to The Gat­ton Academy of Math­e­mat­ics and Sciences, a res­i­den­tial school for high school ju­niors and se­niors on its cam­pus.

Un­til this year, all of the eStem cam­puses — the high school, mid­dle and el­e­men­tary schools — were in two build­ings at Third and Louisiana in down­town Lit­tle Rock. An el­e­men­tary school will re­main in the for­mer Arkansas Gazette build­ing and a ju­nior high will have the Fed­eral Re­serve Bank build­ing to it­self now that the high school is moved out.

Now that the new high school is open, eStem lead­ers will turn some of their at­ten­tion to the con­struc­tion of a sec­ond el­e­men­tary and a sec­ond ju­nior high school on Shall Street, east of In­ter­state 30. Those are sched­uled to open for the 2018-19 school year.

Arkansas Demo­crat-Gazette/STATON BREIDENTHAL

John Ba­con, CEO of eStem Public Char­ter Schools, talks July 6 about the new eStem High School on the Univer­sity of Arkansas at Lit­tle Rock cam­pus in ad­vance of its Au­gust open­ing.

Arkansas Demo­crat-Gazette/STATON BREIDENTHAL

Work con­tin­ues July 6 on the school.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA

© PressReader. All rights reserved.