By Kevin Collison
The Crossroads Academy has found a permanent home for its long-awaited downtown high school, the historic Thayer Building at 816 Broadway.
Acquiring the building marks the culmination of a educational journey that began in 2012 when the downtown charter school opened with 190 elementary students in a former office building at 1015 Central.
Next year, enrollment is projected to grow to 795 students with the ultimate goal of enrolling 1,300. Crossroads also been recognized as a top charter school in Missouri for the quality of its educational program.
“This is a culmination of all the hard work of our staff and parents,” said Tysie McDowell-Ray, Crossroads co-founder and chief academic officer.
“This really completes the journey of a Crossroads student with us, starting in kindergarten and through the 12th grade.”
The Thayer, which currently is used as a DST Systems training facility, will be the third building in the Crossroads Academy downtown campus. In addition to the original facility, the school occupies a former Quality Hill mansion at 1080 Washington St.
Crossroads currently is operating a high school with 35 ninth graders in temporary space leased at Commerce Tower.
The Thayer Building, which will be renamed the Crossroads Preparatory Academy, will be the educational home of 600 seventh through 12th graders when fully occupied.
The Quality Hill and Central Street buildings will serve kindergarten through fifth graders, and the Central building also will have a center for sixth graders.
Crossroads Academy officials have been searching for a permanent high school location for more than a year.
Last summer, they made a bid to occupy the vacant, historic Attucks school in the 18th & Vine Jazz District, but the city ultimately chose another buyer who plans to use it for arts-related purposes.
Dean Johnson, Crossroads co-founder and executive director, said the opportunity to acquire the 71,000 square-foot Thayer Building came up in November.
It proved to be a good fit because it already has been reconfigured for classroom use by DST.
“We have to do very little with it,” he said. “One thing that attracted us is it’s large enough for us to meet all our academic needs including middle school space and central office.”
The six-level building actually is three buildings that had their interiors combined in the 1990s. The original was completed in 1883 and the last opened in 1902. It was designed in the Victorian Eclectic style and is part of the historic Garment District.
“When we first walked into the building, we felt we were in a school because of the classroom set up,” McDowell-Ray said. “It also has a grand atrium which will be neat.”
Johnson said Crossroads has budgeted $12 million to acquire and renovate the Thayer Building and ultimately build a gymnasium on a 36,000 square-foot site at the southwest corner of Ninth and Washington streets.
Preliminary plans call for the project to be funded through financing and philanthropic donations.
Crossroads has a contract to purchase the building from Broadway Square Partners and expects to close in late spring.
The first students, about 185 seventh through tenth graders, are expected to begin class there late this summer. Enrollment will grow as more students move up through the Crossroads program.
Another big draw for the Thayer building is its proximity to the other two Crossroads schools.
“All three buildings are within 2 1/2 blocks of each other and it’s easy walking distance to the streetcar,” Johnson said.
The Crossroads Preparatory Academy will offer a full academic program as well as sports, theater, art and dance.
Kirsten Brown, the high school principal, said her new school will facilitate the Crossroads focus on project-based learning. Besides classroom work, students go to downtown businesses for collaborative projects and learning about potential careers.
“We want to get to a place where students are engaged in their projects every day in an interdisciplinary way,” she said.
Since its opening, Johnson said the downtown community has embraced the Crossroads Academy. Students have used downtown as their laboratory, and many are drawn to its diversity.
In 2016, the enrollment was 44.5 percent African-American, 32.9 percent white, 19.3 percent Hispanic and 3.4 percent Asian.
“The downtown community has welcomed our students, staff and school with open arms,” Johnson said.
“The downtown learning opportunity is a key feature of our school and we’re excited to locate our high school here.”
BNIM Architects is designing the prep school renovation. Turner Construction is the general contractor and MC Realty is construction manager.
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