The first new school in decades planned for downtown Oklahoma City likely will be located at the former “Skid Row,” which has been a vacant lot since 1990 when an urban renewal group razed a city block of seedy establishments.
After months of analyzing a dozen sites for the $11.1 million downtown elementary school, a task force recommended the city block on the southwest corner of Sheridan and Walker avenues.
“Of the four sites that we considered to be all excellent candidates for the school, one involved an unwilling seller so we x-ed it out,” said Anthony McDermid, principal architect with TAP Architecture, the Oklahoma City firm selected to design the school.
The other two sites were the Century Center Plaza retail space and the historic Central High School building, which has been redeveloped into office space.
After scrutinizing why the Central High School at 817 N Robinson, wasn't the top choice, the Oklahoma City School Board voted unanimously in favor of the approximately 2.5 acre lot owned by the Oklahoma City Urban Renewal Authority.
“A lot of us had a real love affair with Central High School,” said Gail Vines one of three board members who served on the task force.
“We discussed bringing in the administration into the space. ... When it came down to dollar amounts, it became pretty scary.”
In 2001, voters approved a $700 million sales tax and bond issue package that called for almost every school in the district to be rebuilt and for several new high schools and elementary schools to be constructed.
An elementary school downtown was promised to voters in the package, and it is the last school project in MAPS for Kids.
As with all MAPS for Kids decisions, both the Oklahoma City Council and the Oklahoma City MAPS Trust also must approve the proposed site for the school before negotiations with the owner can begin.
While the site of the elementary school is nearing finalization, details about how the school will operate and who will get to attend are not clear.
Former Mayor Kirk Humphreys began last year working on a charter school — a privately run but publicly funded elementary — that would open in downtown Oklahoma City. He said there are 27 members on the charter school's board.
“We've been meeting with the school board and representatives for about nine months now and working to put together a structure for how we might work together for a downtown elementary school,” Humphreys said.
Other options for the school would be for it to be a traditional public school with geographically defined attendance boundaries or a magnet school that accepted students from across the district based on entrance criteria such as academic excellence. The board will have final say.
The proposed school would house 500 students, prekindergarten through sixth grades and would likely have an urban feel designed to make the most of a small footprint in the city, McDermid said.
“Most families with school-aged children do not consider living downtown, and the reason they don't is there's really not good public school options for downtown residents,” Humphreys said.
“They are strongly encouraged by friends and realtors to move to one of the suburban districts. It's a big problem for the city itself. We're trying to break through that, and how you do it, is you have a high quality public school option for folks k-12.”