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Walls are going up and significant progress is being made on John W. Rex Elementary, the last of the new public schools funded by MAPS for Kids.
Located at the southwest corner of W. Sheridan and S. Walker avenues, the charter school will be the only elementary in Downtown Oklahoma City. The school’s boundaries for attendance generally extend from Western Avenue to Lottie Avenue and from N.E. 13th to S.W. 15th streets. At a cost of more than $14 million, the school is set to open for the 2014-2015 school year.
“You’re going to see a lot of excitement when we finish the school and it opens,” says MAPS director David Todd.
Oklahoma City Public School Superintendent Karl Springer believes a Downtown school will help with the area’s development as a walkable, sustainable district.
“It will be the in-place to send your students,” he says. “It will put us on the map for creating an urban school that helps create an urban community.”
Jim Burkey, chief operations officer for OKCPS, says school planners drew on models from the eastern United States in developing a Downtown school.
“It’s a new thing for OKC and a new thing for the state of Oklahoma,” he says.
Springer and Burkey expressed optimism that the school site will allow teachers and students easy access to academic-related attractions such as the Myriad Botanical Gardens, the Ronald J. Norick Downtown Library and the Core to Shore area, which one day will include the 70-acre Downtown Park.
“The selection of the site couldn’t have been planned any better,” Burkey says.
John W. Rex will be across the street from a proposed 20-story office building that will replace the former Stage Center performing arts theater. News of the highrise was announced in July.
Eventually, John W. Rex will house a maximum of 550 students. However, in its first year of operation, the school will be home to students in pre-kindergarten through second grade with an estimated enrollment of about 280.
MAPS for Kids was approved by voters in November 2001 with OKC schools receiving 70% of the funding and the remaining 30% going to suburban districts such as Norman, Moore, Edmond, Yukon and Mustang. The sales tax was collected for seven years. In addition, voters in 2001 also approved a $180 million bond issue to fund other OKC school projects.
More than 70 new and renovated school projects around the city totaling $470 million will be completed when the program draws to a close. Program budgets included $52 million for technology projects and $9 million for bus fleet replacement.
“It [voter approval] certainly was monumental. That was the first time something like that has ever been done,” Todd says. “It shows how much the citizens care about education and their kids.”
Three high schools were built with the money: Frederick A. Douglass Mid-High School, John Marshall Mid-High School and Ulysses S. Grant High School. Every school in the OKC district has been touched by the project, Todd says.
“Most (districts) have spent their money,” Todd says. “Of those that have not, they have until 2017 to spend it.”
Once the program reaches a conclusion, an estimated $153 million in MAPS for Kids funding will have been spent on more than 400 approved projects in the 23 suburban districts around the city.
Photo by Mark Hancock