St. Louis Public Schools eyes new elementary school
Shenandoah Elementary School in St. Louis on Thursday, July 25, 2013.
Photo by Erik M. Lunsford firstname.lastname@example.org
July 28, 2013 12:30 am • By Elisa Crouch email@example.com > 314-340-8119
ST. LOUIS • City schools Superintendent Kelvin Adams is pursuing something that hasn’t been done for nearly a decade in his district: building a new school.
Twenty schools have closed in the district since Adams arrived in 2008. But now, plans are moving forward for a new elementary building for the Tower Grove Park area, potentially giving 600 St. Louis Public Schools students brand new classrooms in fall 2015.
“We see opportunities there,” Adams said of the neighborhood. “We also see a need.”
The proposed $17.6 million building would serve neighborhoods with the highest percentages of preschool and school-aged children in St. Louis. Charter schools also are sprouting there due to demand. The new building would replace three older schools — Mann, Sherman and Shenandoah. Sherman already closed last spring. The new building would require the closure of Mann Elementary, 4047 Juniata Street, and the demolition of Shenandoah Elementary, an 87-year-old building with architectural significance but an expensive list of needs.
Support for a new school at 3412 Shenandoah Avenue isn’t a given. Before an architect is hired, there must be public forums. Those likely will be held in September, a district spokesman said.
And if there’s too much opposition, district officials say they’ll switch gears, potentially adding on to Shenandoah Elementary rather than replacing it.
“We don’t want to walk into the community discussions having made all the decisions,” said Roger CayCe, executive director of operations for the school district.
Plans for the new building have been on the books since 2009, when a district-hired consultant advised closing or consolidating 29 schools, renovating 30 others and building two elementary schools. The consultant recommended putting the second new school in or near the Ville neighborhood. No plans are pending.
Adams has used that study as his guide ever since.
Almost annually, he refers to it as he recommends school closures in response to the district’s shrinking budget and declining enrollment.
St. Louis Public Schools has been losing students since the 1967-68 school year, when enrollment exceeded 115,500 students.
Enrollment was around 27,250 this past year. It rose because of the closure of the six Imagine charter schools.
Across the city, 38 shuttered schools sit empty, with 18 under contract or on the market.
Adams says years of closures aren’t a reason to abandon plans for a new school.
“It’s about location,” Adams said.
WHERE THE KIDS ARE
The empty schools, by and large, are in areas that no longer have high percentages of school-aged children.
This isn’t the case around Tower Grove Park.
Schools are a big issue for many parents in the Tower Grove area. Enrollment choices dominate conversations at playgrounds and coffee shops. Parents often begin weighing their options — traditional public, charter or private schools, or leaving the city altogether — before their children are walking. Charter schools — independent public schools — are also taking root in response.
The five ZIP codes in the area hold 45 percent of the city’s population of children ages 0 to 5 years, and a similar percentage of those 5 to 14 years old, according to 2010 census figures. But like the rest of the city, the surrounding neighborhoods continue to lose children as parents depart for the suburbs in search of higher-performing school districts.
“I walk down my street and there are lot of kids 5 and under,” said Melissa Boulanger, a mother of two young children in Tower Grove South. But recently, one family on the block moved to St. Louis County. So did another she knew from her daughter’s play group.
Boulanger likes the idea of putting her children in the city’s school system but isn’t convinced it’s what she and her husband will do. “We all want a neighborhood school,” Boulanger said.
The new building would be in Tower Grove East.
The Spanish revival building that would come down needs upgrades, such as new restrooms and air conditioning. It was designed by Rockwell Milligan, who succeeded renowned architect William Ittner as the district’s architect in 1914. Money for demolition and construction would come from a $150 million bond issue voters approved in 2010.
Tearing down Shenandoah Elementary could spark opposition from preservationists.
“I don’t think Tower Grove East is going to want to see that building demolished,” said Michael R. Allen, director and architectural historian for the Preservation Research Office. “There are other, larger sites outside of Tower Grove East that would be more suitable for new construction.”
“We have a history of wanting to preserve the older historic buildings that are a fabric of our neighborhood,” said Ann Auer, president of the Tower Grove East Neighborhood Association. But, “We really haven’t had time to talk about it.”
The last building constructed in St. Louis Public Schools holds Clyde C. Miller Career Academy, 1000 North Grand Boulevard. It opened in 2004.
In June, the district’s Special Administrative Board authorized Adams to begin engaging the public about the plans. The board also approved a time line that has construction beginning in February and ending in July 2015. During that time, students at Shenandoah Elementary would be moved to a different building.
CayCe stressed that the district is just as open to Plan B — renovating and adding on to Shenandoah, if that’s what area residents prefer.
“A lot of people like the historical structure,” he said. “There are some things we’re going to leave up to the community.”
Doug Moore of the Post-Dispatch contributed to this report.--
Recent St. Louis school construction
2004: Clyde C. Miller Career Academy opened at 1000 North Grand Avenue.
2003: Mel Carnahan Middle School (now Carnahan High School of the Future) opened at 4041 South Broadway.
2002: Nance Elementary School opened at 8959 Riverview Boulevard.
2002: Vashon High School moved to at 3035 Cass Avenue.
2001: Hodgen Elementary School moved to 1616 California Avenue.--
The story can be accessed here.