Oct. 14—NEOSHO, Mo. — A building rooted firmly in Neosho's past is hoped to be part of the school district's future.
The Neosho School District last week announced its intent to buy the Haas building at 201 N. Washington, a block north of the city square.
With an agreed purchase price of $1.15 million, the building is currently being evaluated for structural fitness and other inspections. The sale is expected to close sometime in November.
The plan calls for the building to accommodate a new type of school for the district based on hands-on learning, said Melissa Oates, principal of Central Elementary. The planned school would offer a STEM-based curriculum — science, technology, engineering and math — with the arts included, resulting in the acronym STEAM.
"Project-based learning is something we already have across the district," Oates said. "What makes this building unique is that we'll be able to do it wall to wall."
Spaces in the new building would look a lot like the ones offered at the Scott Family Amazeum in Bentonville, Arkansas. The district has partnered with the children's museum for about a year researching the concept.
Elements of it are already in place with the district's project-based learning strategies. The idea is to teach traditional state curriculum standards and lessons in the framework of a project, Oates said.
"The beauty of this is how we teach information in context," Oates said. "With this type of learning, it's student-driven as they focus on a problem that's presented to them. They get to discover through research what an appropriate solution is."
Oates mentioned an example of how one class developed a garden for a project. The amount of fencing needed for it, and exactly how much space they had to work with, taught math and geometry concepts. Language skills were emphasized through writing permission or donation requests.
Teachers are trained how to embed curriculum standards into such projects so that students are prepared to take annual performance tests through the Missouri Assessment Program.
Oates said more professional development is coming through quarterly training sessions. Staff members will be touring other districts with similar programs to learn more about them and choose best practices for Neosho.
The district has been planning to expand Central for such a purpose for a while, Superintendent Jim Cummins said. The discovery of the Haas building's availability, however, gave the district some advantages.
Pending the sale, the building can be adapted for the program at a less expensive cost than Central, he said. Such programs are not well suited for traditional classroom settings, Cummins said.
"Traditionally, when a district starts such a school, they usually take a retail or warehouse building and convert it," Cummins said. "That opportunity has presented itself here."
Built in 1898, the building is part of the Neosho Commercial Historic District. Currently, a small portion of the building is used by the Missouri Department of Social Services.
Technically a low-rise building, it is one of the downtown area's tallest structures at four stories. It offers more than 25,000 square feet in what Cummins called "a sort of blank canvas."
"Those floors are essentially wide open," Cummins said. "We have enough space to essentially create whatever we want. It makes for much easier remodeling for STEAM's purpose."
Another advantage is the cost — Cummins noted that a new elementary school in Goodman cost about $13 million. While still in the planning stages, Cummins said that conservative estimates of upgrading Central came in at $5 million.
Officials hope purchasing and renovating the Haas building can be even less expensive. Cummins said that architects have already shifted their focus from Central to the historic building. Plumbing, with the addition of several restrooms and a kitchen, is one challenge that has already been identified, he said.
While the building will allow more students to take part in project-based learning classes — anywhere from 250 to 300, Cummins said — not every student will get to attend the new building.
The plan is to allow some students from each elementary school the opportunity to transfer to the program. The numbers would be based on population sizes of each school, Oates said. Elementary schools with larger populations would send more students. Those students would be chosen through an application process and a lottery.
"At this point, there are still a lot of questions to be answered," Oates said. "The plan moving forward for students and families is there would be an application process for the specified number of students, then there would be a lottery selection. It won't be based on aptitude."
That process would create a way for each elementary school to handle anticipated growth, Cummins said.
Other questions, such as transportation, will be addressed in the months to come. The district hopes to open the building for students in the fall of 2023.
The district is already in the midst of a package of construction projects approved by voters through a levy increase. The biggest project in that package is a performing arts center at Neosho High School, estimated to cost about $19 million.
Despite the unanswered questions and the district's current construction, Cummins said the opportunity offered by the Haas building was too good to pass up.
"If you assume we may need to expand our five elementaries, or build another one in five to 10 years, and you already know that Goodman cost $13 million, then why not take advantage of this for less than $5 million," Cummins said. "It has to do with using resources wisely and having vision of what's in our future."