Scuola Vita Nuova (SVN) charter school is working to expand their facility in the next few years to offer a more enriched experience to a larger number of students in the Northeast.
The school was recently named the 2019 Missouri Charter School of the Year.
The expansion will include a brand new, $5.9 million, 16,000 square-foot building that will be constructed on the lot just north of the current building and east of the Mary Glynn Donnelly Center.
The new facility will be home to four classrooms and additional enhanced learning opportunities including art, music, science, technology, a teaching kitchen, and a movement room.
The four classrooms, located on the first floor, will be split into two 5th grade and two 6th grade classes.
The second floor will offer a variety of enrichment classes that will be available to every SVN student.
The goal, SVN CEO Nicole Goodman said, is to meet the need for more quality seats in the Northeast community. The school currently has a waiting list of 80 students.
“All kids should have access to effective teachers in every classroom and that’s what you’ll have with this new facility and the other enrichment opportunities,” she said.
“When you have access to a quality facility and resources, I think that students are going to have a better chance of being successful in the long run.”
Mary Pittala, director of finance and operations for SVN, said the vision started after they conducted a feasibility study to determine the short and long term goals of the school.
While there was an option to expand to high school, they ultimately decided to retain the K-8 model, but double the number of student capacity from 207 to 414.
“We knew we did K-8 really well, so that’s what we want to focus on,” Pittala said.
Goodman said keeping the K-8 model allows students to continue to collaborate with one another.
“I love the K-8 model,” she said. “I love the cross-pollination that happens with 8th graders and kindergarteners and allowing kids to be leadership role models.”
Once the vision was clear, the staff went to work engaging five groups of stakeholders to determine exactly what the growth would look like, including students, staff, the Northeast community, parents, and SVN board members.
In January 2019, a group of 3rd and 4th grade students were involved in a brainstorming session to determine what they would most like to see in the new space.
They were given various images of furniture, lighting, classroom settings, outdoor spaces, collaboration areas, music rooms, and art rooms and were asked to place colored dots on what they liked the most.
Other features the students said they’d like to see include more lighting, colorful walls, lockers, outside study areas, bigger windows, technology, art rooms, computer labs, and a pony.
Staff expressed need for classroom size, storage, and space and highlighted a desire to see flexible seating and outdoor space.
Parents expressed a need for outdoor space that incorporates nature into the courtyard area and additional programs like art and music.
One common theme between the parents and staff was the desire to keep the close-knit family feel that is part of the culture of SVN.
“They love the small family feel,” said Goodman. “We want to make sure everyone knows everyone and we want to have everyone feel that these are just not [one teacher’s] students, they are our students.”
SVN also met with the Pendleton Heights Neighborhood Association and attended some monthly meetings to determine input from the surrounding neighbors.
“We want to have community involvement in this project and we want everyone to feel like they had played a part in it,” said Pittala.
A large concern for the neighborhood, according to the results of the survey responses, is the issue with traffic along Garfield Avenue as students are dropped off and picked up.
Both Pittala and Goodman said they will continue to work to create the most effective, stream-lined traffic procedure as possible.
Board members discussed adequate space for students and the maximum use and functionality of outdoor green space.
While all stakeholders were involved in the process, Goodman said getting feedback from the staff and students was important.
“They are the ones who have to work in that space and we really wanted to be mindful of listening to those two stakeholders,” she said. “As a school, it’s in our mission to be a collaborative community of engaged learners. We want to make sure that our environment is reflective of that. We want to allow kids space to move around and have hands-on, project-based learning, but we need the space to do that and to discover and explore.”
Based on all the input from the groups, renderings were created of the new space.
The first floor will include four classrooms, a collaboration space, learning commons, and a teaching kitchen.
The second floor will include an art room with a kiln and gallery display; a science room with up-to-date equipment and 3D printers; a music room with practice rooms and a recording studio; a courtyard with sports turf surfacing, an outdoor education area, outdoor furniture, and play equipment; a garden with raised planters that will be used in the teaching kitchen; and a movement room.
The building exterior will utilize solar panels, have a rainwater harvesting system, a green roof, solar smart shades, outdoor food production gardens, an irrigation system, and vertical sunshades.
The total cost of the new facility, including architect, construction costs, technology, and equipment, is an estimated $5.9 million.
Recently, the school received a combined $1.2 million donation. The Sherman Family Foundation announced a $600,000 donation and John and Marny Sherman matched with an additional $600,000 donation.
“That’s our first big donor and we are beyond excited,” said Pittala. “We want the community to understand the cost and what we need to do in order to make it happen.”
Pittala said the ideal goal would be to fundraise the remaining $4.7, but the school is prepared to finance a portion of that if necessary.
The school has already met with architects to draw up renderings based on the meetings with all five stakeholder groups and has hired J.E. Dunn as the contractor for the project.
Because the construction of the building will take about 12 to 14 months, Pittala said the goal is to break ground on construction in May or June of 2020 and open the school in the Fall of 2021.
Once that is finished, between the three buildings, the school will be able to serve K-8, two sections per grade, for a total of 414 students.
Goodman said the addition of the enrichment programs is much-needed for the students.
“The things we mention that we are getting are things that have been in a lot of classrooms or schools for years, but it’s new to us. Our kids deserve this and they deserved it yesterday. They are worth the investment. We keep expecting them to perform but need to provide adequate resources. We want our kids to have an equal opportunity and space.”
Pittala said SVN is currently working on a fundraising campaign to raise the additional funds for the project, but wants the entire community to feel involved.
“We want everyone to be part of it and not just foundations—we want individuals. We are not just after the huge donors, but we want everyone to feel like they are part of this project. Whatever anyone can give, $20, $25, we will take it.”
Goodman said the investment is long-term.
“Every penny counts. It’s a great investment. It’s going to the future of our kids and future generations. It’s going to make our community better, and families.”
SVN is offering a list of donor opportunities that includes anything from equipment to furniture and supplies.
“We want to give people multiple ways to contribute,” said Pittala. “We want everyone to feel like they’re involved and to be excited about it.”
Ultimately, Pittala and Goodman said the entire project has to be a community effort.
“It’s going to take a team effort to pull this off,” said Pittala.
“It takes community,” said Goodman. “It takes everyone working together to make a better experience for our kids. We want people to be excited and proud of their neighborhood school and this community.”
To donate any amount toward this expansion project, please visit svncharter.org and click the “donate” button to give via PayPal, debit, or credit card.
Marketing materials can also be distributed to share the vision of the expansion with friends, family, and businesses. To obtain marketing materials including renderings of the new facility, please email Nicole Goodman at email@example.com.