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Westminster Christian Academy Builds a New School in Town and Country

The private 7-12 grade prep school will move into its new home in time for the 2011-12 school year.

Correction: Patch originally reported Westminister's current location is in Ladue. It is currenty located in Creve Coeur. The following article has been corrected to reflect the updated information.

Creve Coeur's Westminster Christian Academy is building a new campus in Town and Country at Highway 40 and Maryville Centre Drive. The new facility will double the academy’s educational space and will allow it to expand enrollment once again.

Construction is running ahead of schedule and the building will be ready for students in August 2011, a year earlier than expected. Zack Clark, director of advancement, said the school was unintentionally benefiting from the down economy—with few projects competing for skilled labor they are able to hire a larger work force. As many as 150 construction workers are busy at Westminster, one of the largest construction projects currently underway in St. Louis.

The private school has seen constant growth since it first started teaching students in a basement rented from Missouri Baptist College back in 1976. The following year they were able to buy an elementary building in Des Peres, but that was outgrown by 1982. Next they moved into a former Ladue public middle school that could hold 600 students, and an addition built in 1998 allowed the school’s population to swell to 900. But even that was not enough to meet the needs of St. Louis families who seek the school’s Christian based education.

School officials tell Patch they knew the only way to continue growing would be to relocate once again. They had their eye on West Technical High School in Town and Country, a struggling votech run by the Special School District. When West Tech closed its doors in 2002, the academy made a leap of faith and purchased the 40 acre campus for $14.25 million dollars, even though school officials knew they couldn’t immediately move into the space. The high school, built in the 1980s, was customized for teaching construction, cooking and hotel service. At the very least, it would need to be gutted and rebuilt into standard classrooms. Officials at Westminster planned to move into the high school and keep their middle school students in Ladue. But first they needed to raise the money for the giant rehab project.

In 2007 Westminster began a fund raising campaign to turn the old votech into a 21st century high school. School officials said the academy felt blessed when an anonymous donor gave not money, but 30 acres adjacent to West Tech, valued at over seven million dollars. The undeveloped land more than doubled the school's new campus, which allowed room to build a completely new school and keep all their students together.

By 2010, the school had sold its current campus back to the Ladue Public School District for $18 million dollars and negotiated a lease to remain in place until its new facility is ready. They raised a total of $35 million dollars—some in the form of pledges--for construction costs, but the project is estimated to take $50 million to complete, so the school is still accepting donations. Head of School Jim Marsh said that operations costs and capital improvements are kept strictly separate.

“Tuition dollars are not and will not be used for anything related to the development of Town and Country,” he said. The academy took out a construction loan from Cass Bank and hired Brinkmann Construction to start work on the new school in the summer of 2010.

Some of the old West Tech building was torn down, but 160,000 square-feet, including a gym, were kept, saving the academy millions of dollars in construction costs. The finished building will be 320,000 square-feet.

The new building will have room for up to 1,200 students, but Marsh said the school is not expanding for the sake of growth alone. “You could say that we are simply focused on getting better, not bigger,” Marsh explained. He said the school’s main concern is to be able to serve as many Christian families as possible and to give students better opportunities. There a no plans to hire any additional teachers for the next school year as the school will simply move current staff into the new building.

“The campus enables us to significantly improve and expand numerous key areas like fine arts, technology and the sciences,” Clark said. “New spaces that we don’t currently have at all include a fine arts auditorium, a black box theatre, art gallery and multiple art specific classrooms.” He said the athletic department will also gain from the new campus: they will now have three gyms, instead of two, seven more tennis courts and a larger strength and conditioning facility. The Town and Country campus will also have a football stadium with seating for 2000—the current campus just has a field with bleachers.

Clark is especially proud of the building’s expanded science department and lab space, joking that some wouldn’t expect a Christian school to put so much emphasis on a strong science program.

Technology has also been high on the school’s list of improvements.

“One of the benefits of designing and building this campus nearly from the ground up has been to think creatively about technology for the future,” said Clark. He said they are using a “Smart Building” design, with a fiber-optic network built into the school’s infrastructure. “A myriad of components can be attached, much like hanging ornaments on a Christmas tree,” said Clark.

These various components, from the building’s lights and HVAC system to computers and classroom projectors, can be accessed by authorized personal from their mobile devices. For example, administrators can modify a schedule from their iPad or a facility director could turn up the heat from his smart phone. The system is also designed to save energy by scheduling when the lights are used and when to turn off PCs and AV equipment.

A design improvement for the students is the inclusion of numerous “neighborhood” spaces where they can gather for presentations or team projects.

“The whole school will have a community feeling, a place to work and collaborate, rather than an institutional feeling that is often in a school," Clark said. For example, each grade will have its own section of the building, with the seventh and eighth grades having their own floors in a wing separate from the high school.

The crowning touch to the new building will come next spring when several giant stone Celtic crosses will be removed from the entrance of the old building. The cross in a circle is the school’s well recognized logo and can be seen throughout the new building. The stone crosses will take up their usual place at the school’s main entrance, which is designed to mirror the look of the old campus.

 

On the horizon:

  • Missouri State Auditor Tom Schweich said he wants his office to be able to conduct comparative analysis of state agencies, a common practice in the private sector. Rep. Sue Allen, R-Town and Country, will sponsor legislation in the Missouri House to give the auditor this ability. The review is designed to give the government a clear picture of how agencies spend money.
  • Rawlings, based in Town and Country, will introduce a new line of high-end performance apparel, to directly compete with Nike and Under Armour. in the lucrative market of high-end performance apparel. The St. Louis Post-Dispatch reports that Rawlings asked local high school athletics to test the new clothing as part of the research.
  • Wasabi Sushi Bar is preparing to open their sixth location in Town and Country Crossing by late spring or early summer. Wasabi is a locally owned restaurant that serves authentic Japanese cuisine.

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