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Oakhill adding new location, renovating old school

Once construction is completed at the South Campus, the campaign will focus on improvements to the original school building.
Once construction is completed at the South Campus, the campaign will focus on improvements to the original school building. Photo provided

Oakhill Day School will celebrate its 70th birthday in 2017.

But a big milestone in the school’s history is happening right now.

The school is preparing to move this year’s fourth- through eighth-grade classes to a new location : the Oakhill South Campus.

Classroom space has been carved out of the old Gladstone Office Building at 6910 N. Holmes St., just south of the existing Oakhill campus at 7019 N. Cherry St.

And although it’s an old building, students will enjoy such modern amenities as “burners in the science room, more space for a large variety of experiments — a real laboratory,” said Jackson Brown, an eighth-grader and president of the school’s student council.

Jackson is referring to the science demonstration laboratory for seventh- and eighth-grade classes on the second floor of the building. Other renovations include an art kiln studio, music practice space, a kitchen, a patio and courtyard and an event area.

Since its founding in 1947, Oakhill has grown from a place for kindergarteners to play into a full-scale school for preschoolers through eighth-graders. Oakhill is an independent private school established as a nonprofit corporation.

The need for a new location became apparent as the school’s enrollment grew from 200 students 10 years ago to 355 in 2016. Attempts to accommodate the growth have included using the gym to produce school shows in shifts and holding classes in administration office space.

In 2015, parents and school officials decided it was time “right now” to address the space issues, said Suzanne McCanles, head of school. So, Oakhill launched the “Right Now Campaign @ Oakhill Day School,” a three-year fundraising campaign with a goal of $2.5 million.

In August of 2015, the school purchased the nearby three-story, 54,000-square-foot office building, and in March of 2016, walls were torn down and renovations begun. The campaign includes improvements to the existing school as well, which will be used for preschoolers through third-graders.

So far, more than $820,000 has been given or pledged, about a third of the goal, said Jennifer Latier, an Oakhill parent who chairs the campaign with her husband.

Throughout the school’s history, its growth has been nurtured by the parents who send their children to Oakhill.

Latier has two sons at Oakhill now and a daughter, Ella, who finished eighth-grade there in 2014. The Latiers moved back to the Northland from San Diego when their daughter was 5. They enrolled her at Oakhill on a trial basis and quickly became sold on the school’s smaller class size and individual instruction, Latier said.

“Socially and academically, the interests of my children are all very different,” she said. “Oakhill tailors the learning to address areas where students excel and areas that challenge them.”

Latier said she remembered attending a school event when Ella was in fourth-grade and she heard an eighth-grader address the parents. Latier was impressed with the eighth-grade student’s poise.

A few years, Latier was impressed with the self-confidence and maturity of her own daughter when Ella made a presentation at Gladstone City Hall as part of an eighth-grade class requirement.

Because it has no religious affiliation or tax base, Oakhill depends upon tuition and donations to keep its doors open. About 75 percent of the operating budget comes from tuition and 25 percent from fundraising and other sources of revenue. Tuition averages around $11,000 a year.

One means of generating additional revenue is from leasing space to tenants in the Gladstone Office Building. Students will have the entire first floor; businesses, the entire third floor. They’ll split space on the second floor.

Access to the school will be separate and secure from the tenant space.

The new school will not look flashy or trendy, McCanles said.

“We take pride in our tradition of 70 years as an independent school,” she said. “The space will feel like Oakhill but with modern edges.”

Taking a more contemporary approach means getting away from the long-corridor style of the original school built in the 1920s and opening up the space. For example, “tech nooks” are scattered throughout the South Campus building — areas where individuals or small groups can gather comfortably to use their computers.

Once construction is completed at the South Campus, the campaign will focus on the original school building. Improvements planned include a multipurpose space for performances, assemblies and sports; additional office space and a conference room; expanded restrooms and a renovated kitchen.

Open house

What: Oakhill Day School, building tours

Where: 7019 N. Cherry St. and 6910 N. Holmes St., Gladstone

When: 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 12

For information: 816-436-6228, www.oakhilldayschool.org

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