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Students At St. Louis’ Collegiate High School Pushing Back On Relocation Plan

Students at St. Louis Public Schools' Collegiate School of Medicine and Bioscience use temporary mobile classrooms as laboratory space outside of the historic Wyman school building that houses the program. Photo taken Feb. 5, 2020.
File Photo / Ryan Delaney
St. Louis Public Radio
Mark Schisler, a biology teacher, helps students prep a lab at Collegiate School of Medicine and Bioscience. The school may move locations next year.

Updated at 1:30 p.m. with comments from the school board president

Students at one of St. Louis Public Schools’ top high schools are feeling blindsided by a plan to relocate their school to another building in the city.

Collegiate School of Medicine and Bioscience students say no one from the district discussed a plan to move their school to a newer and larger space over the summer. They’ve circulated a petition that now has more than 450 signatures.

“I was like, ‘What? That's ridiculous. That seems like a really big deal,’” said Collegiate sophomore Avery Vance about hearing of the proposal from classmates. “And because it's proposed to happen over the summer I'm like, that seems very soon and maybe a little bit of a stretch.”

The move of Collegiate is part of the next step of a larger consolidation effort underway in the district, which is trying to adjust to a persistently shrinking student population. SLPS decided earlier this year to close eight schools.

One of the closures is Cleveland Junior Naval Academy, which shared a building with Central Visual Performing Arts High School at the corner of Kingshighway and Arsenal. The district is proposing having Collegiate’s 290 students move into the space.

“We still don't know very much about the building,” Vance said. “We know that there's currently one science lab in the building, and it's said that there'll be more built, but we don't really know much more about that.”

The district did not make someone available for comment, but a spokesperson said the proposal will likely be discussed further at Tuesday’s school board meeting before being voted on. Board President Dorothy Rohde-Collins said she and district administrators have heard from several Collegiate students and parents in the past two weeks.

Collegiate opened in 2013 as an academically rigorous high school. Students take two science courses a year and complete an internship their senior year. It’s risen to be ranked as one of the top academic high schools in the state.

SLPS renovated the historic Wyman school building on Theresa Avenue for Collegiate, but the building lacked a key element to be a top science school: science laboratories. So the district parked four mobile labs in the parking lot.

“Collegiate is a really beautiful building,” said Lilley Halloran, a junior at the school. “It has a lot of light, and the classrooms, I think, are really great and historic.”

Students at St. Louis Public Schools' Collegiate School of Medicine and Bioscience use temporary mobile classrooms at laboratory space outside of the historic Wyman school building that houses the program. Photo taken Feb. 5, 2020.
File photo / Ryan Delaney
St. Louis Public Radio
Students at Collegiate School of Medicine and Bioscience walk from the mobile laboratories back to the Wyman building between classes in February 2020.

But Halloran admits the portable labs have limitations. The building also lacks an auditorium and is not easily navigable for students with physical disabilities.

The district and the St. Louis Public Schools Foundation have discussed for years how to find a solution, usually centered on raising enough money to build a permanent expansion to the school. Rohde-Collins said moving the school instead of building an addition "makes the most sense" right now but added the proposal could change at the board meeting.

SLPS Building Commissioner Square Watson told school board members last month that not having to rent the portable trailers would save $75,000 a year. Additional lab space will need to be installed within the old Cleveland space, he said.

Halloran said she’s coming around to the idea of having a new school building, even if it lacks all the natural light and hardwood floors. “Potentially having better labs would be really great,” she said.

But Halloran and Vance still worry about what the move will do to their tight-knit school culture after more than a year apart during the pandemic. A new, shared building could drastically change that, they said.

“I think that eventually we can bounce back,” said Vance. “The thing is, though, nobody wants their high school experience to be while your school is bouncing back from something.”

Other programs in the district are also shuffling. The junior naval program that had been the core of Cleveland High School is slated to move to the Clyde C. Miller Career Academy. Some vocational programs currently run at Beaumont High School will move to Gateway STEM and Vashon high schools. Also, the Nahed Chapman New American Academy would take over the space vacated by Collegiate at the adjacent Wyman building. Finally, the district will operate its new virtual school program out of the old Dunbar Elementary School.

Residents of the Jeff-Vander-Lou neighborhood are also expressing frustration with the plan. After fighting for years to keep Dunbar open, they say now they’d like the building to be used as a community space rather than just offices and classrooms for teachers delivering lessons virtually.

Follow Ryan on Twitter: @rpatrickdelaney

Ryan was an education reporter at St. Louis Public Radio.