Tulsa Public Schools’ Project Schoolhouse has caused a lot of shuffling around over the last year.
Thirteen buildings closed during the first phase, transferring hundreds of students to other schools.
For one high school, however, the vacant buildings have proved a major opportunity for the growth of a unique community.
A Place of Their Own
An auditorium, a gym, a cafeteria and a kitchen: these are a few of the things that the former Barnard Elementary school building has, which until this spring, the Tulsa School of Arts and Sciences, lacked.
It’s fondly called TSAS, and it’s one of Tulsa’s few charter high schools. For the past 11 years, since it opened, it’s been located in an office building near 51st and Yale.
Now, thanks to Project Schoolhouse and a partnership with Tulsa Public Schools, TSAS will have its own school building for the first time.
Tonight is an open house, and many current students and incoming freshman are seeing the building for the first time. The student jazz band performs on what will be the school stage as students, parents, teachers, alumni and friends file into the auditorium.
“I would like to welcome you to our new home,” begins TSAS Director Eric Doss.
The main event, however, is guided walking tours of the new place, courtesy TSAS students.
Juniors Blair Bovaird and Berma Carter lead one of the tour groups. Right now they’re in what will probably be a math classroom. On the ground, there’s a rectangle of blue painter’s tape, demarking an area about a two-thirds the size of the room.
“This blue strip of tape represents one of our classrooms currently at TSAS,” Bovaird says. “Overall the move will give us 25,000 more square feet than our office building right now.”
It’s technically a gain of just one extra classroom. But larger classrooms, wide hallways and those added bonuses, like the cafeteria and gym, add up.
Junior Chris Huddle is excited about just how much roomier everything is.
“I’m a really tall person,” he says. “The building that TSAS is in right now is not good for tall people, and I hit a lot of things … I can skip down the halls in here.”
Fellow junior Austin Blue is also excited about the extra room.
“I’m also excited about the stage and the drama room. I’m just excited about the whole move,” he says.
Both Burma Carter and Bovaird will graduate next year. But their feelings about that aren’t typical.
“I wish I was a freshman so I could come in and have four years here,” Carter says. “Can I start over again?”
Bovaird echoes, “Originally I was wishing I was a senior graduating from the old building, but now I wish I was a freshman going into the new building.”
New Home Improvement
It’s not a perfect place. The water fountains, for instance, are a size more suited to third graders than tenth graders. And the building’s been sitting vacant for a year, so those water fountains aren’t in the best of repair.
But TSAS officially takes possession of the building on July 1, and volunteer workdays are already scheduled.
Burma Carter is ready to start work.
“For us to come in here, and change everything, and make it the way we want it to be,” she says, “I feel like it’s a great opportunity for us to come here and start new roots in a permanent building.”
TSAS is known for its quirkiness, something to which the office building location contributed. Bovaird says because of that, she felt lukewarm about the move at first.
“When they originally suggested the idea of going to Barnard, I was like, ‘Oh, it’s an elementary school, it’s a real school, I don’t want to go there,’” she says. “But then I got really excited about customizing it and putting our own mark on the school as the first grades to go into it.”
That sentiment, excitement about finally having a permanent home, resonates with the staff as well.
Principal Liesa Smith is ready to build upon what she calls 11 years of solid foundation.
“Kids are really going to be able to invest in a place that will feel like their home,” she says. “It will feel like something that they can own.”
English teacher Ellen Stackable points out that the building was constructed through the WPA.
“The kind of people who built them, it always kind of gets to me. That it provided work for people who had no jobs,” she says. “I love that idea, that tradition, that sense of community that we’re inheriting.”
Director Eric Doss says the move is overdue.
“When I came to the school 10 years ago, I remember having a conversation with … some of the others about how everything needed to stay on wheels, and everything needed to be not mounted on the walls, because we were going to move pretty soon,” he says. “That was 10 years ago.”
He calls the building a metaphor for TSAS.
“I think that our education model is sort of a traditional school with sort of some unique aspects to it … Sadly they’re unique things like small class sizes and interactions between teachers and students,” he says. “And I think this building is sort of a traditional school with some unique aspects to it.”