Académie Lafayette’s plans to expand worry its neighbors

Académie Lafayette, which added a second building this school year, is looking to expand again.

This time it’s planning to add to its original building at 6903 Oak St.

“We have a low rate of attrition here and we have just outgrown this building,” said school spokeswoman Katie Hendrickson.

While neighbors say they like the school and want to see it grow, they are worried that a building addition would mean more cars parked along their streets.

“I know that it is a good school and I like having the school there, but they will have to do some really good planning to build onto that school without causing some traffic problems,” said Terry Flach, a longtime area resident. “If they are going to end up taking away part of their parking lot, that is going to cause trouble.”

Académie Lafayette’s enrollment has grown from 250 when it opened in 1999 in the former J.C. Nichols School building to more than 700 students, with a long waiting list.

Last spring, the K-8 school launched a capital campaign to raise $3.5 million for building expansion and other improvements. More than $1 million has been raised through community donations. The school hopes to raise $1.5 million from foundations and corporations. The Hall Family Foundation has promised a $500,000 challenge grant to help the school reach its goal.

In the fall, Académie Lafayette moved its kindergarten, first and second grades into another former Kansas City school building at 3421 Cherry St. Even though moving the lower grades into the former Longan French magnet school freed up space, the Oak Street building still is cramped, Hendrickson said.

But school officials are expecting big classes moving into the third through eighth grades because the kindergarten classes are bigger than they’ve ever been.

“We have six kindergarten classes of 20 students each, a total of 120 kindergartners,” Hendrickson said.

Académie Lafayette is a French immersion school, meaning everything — math, literature, history and science — is taught to students in French. Almost all students who start in the lowest grades stay through middle school. Students don’t usually come to the school past first grade because they would be too far behind.

The school scores high on state tests. More than 80 percent of eighth-graders scored proficient or advanced in math for 2012, and 90 percent did in communications arts.

The school might add high school grades in the future, Hendrickson said.

The expansion plans — including a multipurpose room, six to eight classrooms and offices — call for an addition on the northeast side of the school. It would extend into the school’s playground and part of the parking lot. Crews would start this summer, with a completion target of August 2014.

“It is good to know that this school is healthy. And they are trying to be a good neighbor, keeping us informed about what they are doing. But my big concern is traffic,” said John Kilby, who lives on Oak Terrace, just across from where the addition would be built.

Although an expansion is the primary plan, it is not the only possibility. Board members also are looking into the feasibility of buying the former Bryant school at 57th Street and Wornall Road.

“We want to do the best that we can with our resources and find a way to serve more kids,” said David Cozad, president of the school’s board.

“I’m in agreement with growing the school, but if and when we want to grow to a high school, we would need to go and purchase another school building,” said Terry Riley, president of the school’s parent-teacher association.

Riley said that even though parents know the Bryant idea is “a very preliminary proposal,” some expressed stiff disagreement.

“Some parents stated they would like to keep Académie Lafayette as a neighborhood school, but it is not a neighborhood school,” Riley said. “It is a school for all kids in the Kansas City school district.”

Hendrickson said there is no real plan to buy another building rather than expand the school at 69th and Oak streets, but the board wants to consider both ideas.

“But if we do one, we cannot do the other,” she said.

The issue is to be discussed at the next Académie Lafayette board meeting at 6 p.m. Monday at 3421 Cherry.