Local News Spotlight

DeLaSalle charter school begins $7 million expansion, renovation

The charter school will spend $7 million to add facilities, programs and room for more students.

Updated: 2012-09-30T07:07:39Z

By MARÁ ROSE WILLIAMS

The Kansas City Star

Pat Lantz grew up in the Troost Avenue corridor. For more than half his 56 years, he has walked through the doors of what is now DeLaSalle Charter High School, first as a student and now as a teacher.

So it’s no wonder that a decade ago, when plans to expand the 33-year-old DeLaSalle began percolating, Lantz had a seat at the table.

Now, after “a long journey,” he’s seeing the project start. Groundwork has begun, the first step in a more than $7 million expansion and renovation of the building in the 3700 block of Troost.

Lantz and community leaders say they’re excited about the expansion and the effect they think it will have in the ongoing redevelopment along Troost. School officials envision an expanded school as a linchpin for avenue improvements.

“As I see it,” said Jim Heeter, CEO of the Greater Kansas City Chamber of Commerce, “the DeLaSalle expansion is yet another important indicator that the community is stepping forward and investing in the Troost corridor.”

The corridor was chosen as the first area for the chamber’s Urban Neighborhood Initiative. Heeter said that while plans for the DeLaSalle project began long before the chamber and United Way launched the initiative a year ago, “it fits beautifully into what the initiative wants for that neighborhood” around Squier Park.

Heeter said the DeLaSalle expansion touches on every one of the urban initiative’s four revitalization areas: education, jobs and economic growth, public safety and public health.

“The school is right in the heart of it,” he said.

Paula Guinn, associate director of development at DeLaSalle, said expansion is long overdue.

“This school hasn’t had an upgrade since 1991,” she said. “We have been living in this space and trying to flex.”

The school serves nearly 200 Kansas City students who had not been successful in traditional classrooms. Until three years ago, DeLaSalle was a private school and contracted with the Kansas City School District to accept district students. In 2009, it became a charter, a public school governed by an independent board.

Beyond relieving crowding, “the expansion will allow the school to enroll 60 to 80 additional students who are now on a waiting list to get in,” said Steve McClure, assistant director of charter schools at the University of Missouri-Kansas City, which sponsors DeLaSalle.

The school will occupy a full block from 37th Street to Manheim Road. Its main entrance from Troost will get a new face.

All the offices for the student support programs, now scattered around the building, will be together.

The student-run press — which is directed by Lantz and operates as a business printing pamphlets, programs, stationery and fliers for local firms — will move from the basement to a prominent storefront with access from Troost.

A new child development center and new outdoor playground will be built for the children of teenage parents who attend DeLaSalle. The child care program will move out of a detached mobile class unit, and art and sculpting programs will move in.

The school also will get a larger library with updated technology. Behavioral health services, including programs for drug and alcohol counseling, will get new therapy space, an observation room and a waiting area.

Mark Williamson, the school’s executive director, said upgrading these areas is essential for the success of students at DeLaSalle. Many students come to the school burdened by poverty, violence in the home or addiction.

“If we don’t address that stuff, we are not going to ever get to the algebra or the literature,” Williamson said.

School officials expect the expansion will add 18,200 square feet for classrooms and experimental learning programs where, instead of sitting through a classroom lecture, DeLaSalle students will learn subjects like physics by building something.

“We are not building office space,” said Mark Williamson, the school’s executive director. “In fact, some of the offices that were once classrooms will be reclaimed and converted back into classroom space.”

Funding for the project comes from a capital campaign launched in 2008 and completed in 2010. Two of the largest funders were the J.E. and L.E. Mabee Foundation with a $1 million challenge grant and the Hall Family Foundation, which donated $1 million.

Most of the funding — 67 percent — came from philanthropic foundations. Fifteen percent came from individual donations, 13 percent from businesses and 5 percent from government funding.

The school recently received $1.1 million through the New Markets Tax Credit program, which is designed to help redevelop blighted areas.

“The school is going to look really nice,” Williamson said. “The work is scheduled to be finished by May 2013. We will be in brand new space for the 2013-2014 school year.”

To reach Mará Rose Williams, call 816-234-4419 or send email to mdwilliams@kcstar.com.

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