eStem, UALR break ground for new high school

Artist renderings of future eStem High School on the UALR campus

Work is underway on an innovative partnership that will bring eStem High School to the University of Arkansas at Little Rock campus.

About a year after announcing the project, UALR and eStem Public Charter Schools hosted a groundbreaking ceremony on Wednesday. Starting with the next school year, the collaboration will provide new opportunities to eStem students, while breathing life into one of the university’s original buildings.

“UALR has a history of collaborating with central Arkansas school districts, and this partnership fits well with the university’s goal of preparing students to succeed in higher education and the workforce of tomorrow,” said Zulma Toro, UALR executive vice chancellor and provost.

Leaders at eStem plan to renovate and expand Larson Hall on the UALR campus by the 2017-18 school year and add high school classrooms at a nearby existing building, Ross Hall, for the 2021-22 school year.

The collaboration clears the way for eStem, a tuition-free public charter school that operates on an enrollment lottery system, to add students.

“Since we opened our doors, eStem has provided a unique learning environment that encourages innovation – both inside and outside of the classroom – and our students have thrived,” said John Bacon, CEO of eStem. “Now, through this strategic partnership, we will be able to expand this opportunity to more students.”

Officials from eStem and UALR break ground during a ceremony at the future site of eStem High School.
Officials from eStem and UALR break ground during a ceremony at the future site of eStem High School. Photo by Lonnie Timmons III/UALR Communications

A benefit for eStem’s high school students will be the option of taking college-level courses and learning from some of the leading scholars in the science, technology, engineering, and mathematics fields without leaving campus. While taking college-credit courses, the students also will have an opportunity to earn an associate degree in high school.

“We welcome partnerships that benefit students and the Arkansas economy,” said UALR Chancellor Andrew Rogerson. “We think this collaboration has great potential for central Arkansas.”

The preliminary plan announced in August 2015 involved the construction of a new building on 28th Street and a smaller-scale renovation of Larson Hall, but that plan changed. After further study, officials determined that working with existing buildings was a better option for the project.

Leaders at the public charter school expect the high school’s enrollment to grow to 1,125 students at the UALR location by the 2026-27 school year.

Once completed, the renovated and expanded Larson Hall facility will be about 50,000 square feet and will include 31 classrooms, three chemistry labs, two physical science labs and two computer labs.

A $11.4 million no-interest loan from the Walton Family Foundation is financing the eStem renovation and construction project designed by Witsell Evans & Rasco Architects-Planners in Little Rock. The project is subject to UALR’s review to “assure architectural compatibility with the university campus.” Under the terms of a 30-year lease, eStem will pay UALR $1 annually.

The university will benefit from the improvements eStem makes to the property and from having the additional students and teachers on campus. The charter school will be responsible for insurance, as well as shared service expenses.

Image in upper right is an artist rendering of the future eStem High School, courtesy of Witsell Evans & Rasco Architects-Planners.

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