Preliminary renderings of a new downtown elementary were presented Wednesday to the Oklahoma City Urban Renewal Authority with a pitch that the project, if successful, will accelerate development of new housing in the city's urban core.
John W. Rex Elementary School, a charter school to be located at Sheridan and Walker avenues, is one of the final school projects in MAPS for Kids and is thought to be part of a groundbreaking arrangement. The Oklahoma City School District could be the first public school district in the country to operate its own charter school, and will do so with nonprofit group Oklahoma City Quality Schools.
Plans call for the $14 million, 79,000 square-foot school to open in fall, 2014.
Renderings presented to Urban Renewal board members by Anthony McDermid with TAP Architecture and Kerry Leonard with Cannon Design of Chicago propose a three-story school building facing Walker Avenue between Sheridan and California avenues, and a gymnasium that would face Sheridan Avenue between Walker and Dewey Avenues.
The designs, McDermid said, are intended to create a campus that will fit in with the surrounding urban area.
“What you're going to see is a very unique school for Oklahoma City,” McDermid said.
Renderings shown Wednesday propose a building facade consisting of dark iron-spot-style brick with Kansas limestone used for accenting the base of the structure. A clear glass curtain wall with colorful “super graphics” would be used for the entrance lobby at the corner of Sheridan and Walker.
Leonard said the classroom building is situated to enjoy a view of the Myriad Gardens to the east and whatever might be developed on the Stage Center block immediately across the street. The gym, meanwhile, will be built across from the Sheridan-Walker Parking Garage, which will be used to provide parking for the school.
“The building needs to be substantial in order to stand out in the urban context,” Leonard said.
The southwest corner of the block, meanwhile, is being designed as a garden, playground and outdoor space that fits in with the school's mission of becoming a “boundless academy” where students are encouraged to experiment, dream up new ideas, and enjoy the benefit of surrounding cultural venues, including the Ronald J. Norick Downtown Library, Oklahoma City Musuem of Art and Myriad Gardens.
“The big idea of this project is that there be a strong connection between what goes on in the school and what is happening in the city,” Leonard said.
Kirk Humphreys, a board member with Oklahoma City Quality Schools, assured Urban Renewal commissioners that the school will represent the diverse population of the city, with attendance boundaries set at NW 10, the Oklahoma River, Lottie Avenue and Western Avenue.
Humphreys told commissioners the school also will accept students from what are deemed failing schools, and students whose parents work downtown.
“It's a statement school,” Humphreys said. “We want someone to drive into downtown, see the school kids, and say, ‘Wow, these people care about education.' … We'd love it if a Devon employee who lives in Edmond sends their kid to this school and loves it so much they want to live downtown.”
Elementary plans to be analyzed
Plans for the John W. Rex Elementary School will be reviewed by several government bodies and likely will be scrutinized more than any other school built as part of the MAPS for Kids program. The land, one of the city's blighted “skid rows,” is owned by the Oklahoma City Urban Renewal Authority, and the exterior and site plans require the approval of the authority's board.
One contention arose during Wednesday's review by Urban Renewal as board member Larry Nichols challenged the location of the drop-off and pickup area along Dewey Avenue as being too long of a walk for children to the classroom building.
Designer Kerry Leonard responded the site plan is designed for long lines of cars to begin along California and Dewey avenues — out of the more heavily traveled Sheridan and Walker avenues. He also responded a change in the building locations would result in the classrooms looking out at the Sheridan Walker Parking Garage instead of the Myriad Gardens.
The plans are next set to be reviewed by the nonprofit Oklahoma City Quality Schools, which is helping fund the project and will operate the school in conjunction with Oklahoma City Public Schools as a charter school.
The designs also will require approval by the Oklahoma City MAPS for Kids Trust, the Oklahoma City Public School Board, the Oklahoma City Council and the Downtown Design Review Committee.