The Lee’s Summit School District and the University of Central Missouri want to build a new home for their innovative programs that allow students to earn a bachelor’s degree only two years after completing high school.
The new building would house the district’s Summit Technology Academy, programs that the University of Central Missouri now offers locally at its Summit Center and the Missouri Innovation Campus — the nationally recognized fast-track degree program developed by the district, UCM, Metropolitan Community College and local businesses.
On Jan. 22, the Lee’s Summit school board will decide whether to put a $40 million bond issue on the April ballot, which would provide $16 million for the new campus plus money for capital improvements and maintenance throughout the school district. Taxes would not go up if the bond issue passes.
The school district and the University of Central Missouri have approved a lease agreement for the shared facility, contingent on the purchase of land for the project. A location has not been announced.
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The school district opened Summit Technology Academy in 1999, with an emphasis on preparing students for college and high-demand careers like engineering and information technology. It now serves about 450 students from 11 school districts and programs now include nursing, international studies, digital media and education.
The innovation campus, or MIC, launched in the fall of 2012, is part of Summit Tech.
Students enroll in their junior year of high school and take classes at Summit Technology Academy. Upon graduation from high school, students will also have associate degrees, then complete their final two years of study at UCM. The business partners offer paid internships along the way.
“Since opening the MIC, the university and the R-7 School District have broken new ground demonstrating innovative ways to accelerate the time it takes for students to complete a degree, provide students with job-ready skills, and help them graduate with little or no debt,” UCM President Charles Ambrose said in a news release.
The current Summit Technology Academy/Missouri Innovation Campus facility totals 42,000 square feet within leased space at 777 N.W. Blue Parkway, northeast of U.S. 50 and Chipman Road. The university’s Summit Center is nearby at 850 N.W Chipman Road.
Officials say they are outgrowing their space, and a shared 140,000-square-foot facility would save money for both the district and the university.
Lee’s Summit School Superintendent David McGehee said the current lease is very favorable for the district because of a tax abatement, but that lease ends in 2018.
“If we stay where we’re at, we’re looking at, over a 20-year period, more than $20 million in rent,” McGehee said. “This is a better way to use our tax dollars instead of renting. Here’s an opportunity to own the facility at less cost over the course of the next 20 years. It just makes financial sense.”
The lease agreement calls for the university to pay 60 percent of the cost through its base rent over 20 years. UCM would use roughly 60 percent of the space, leaving 40 pecent for the district. If the bond issue passes in April, the campus could open in August of 2017.
“We’re going to spend $40 million on a new facility on site and our share is only $16 million,” McGehee said. “After 20 years, it is ours. UCM will have no ownership at that point.”
McGehee said UCM is willing to share the cost because of the nature of the partnership. Once the district takes ownership, the university will continue to lease its space for $100 per year. Both entities will share operating and maintenance costs.
“They’re really looking at the future of what they would have spent on rent over a 40-year period,” McGehee said. “It becomes financially feasible and makes sense for them as well.”
Stan Elliott, director of the Missouri Innovation Campus, said a new building would do wonders for the program.
“Any time you are able to offer a state-of the-art learning facility, it is an attraction,” Elliott said. “Our talent pool for the whole MIC (Missouri Innovation) campus is at Summit Technology Academy, so being able to be under one roof would be excellent for efficiency sake and make it even more effective.”
Ambrose agreed that a new building would make the partnership blossom.
“It’s probably one of the most exciting public partnerships in the country,” Ambrose said. “What the campus is doing is not happening anywhere else in the United States. We all believe if you put that program in a state-of-the art learning facility … it will give an incredible new destination to the city of Lee’s Summit.”
According to the district, the proposed bond issue would not affect the district’s ability to present other no-tax-increase bond issues for buildings needed to accommodate enrollment growth, such as a fourth middle school, a fourth high school and the 19th elementary school.