Thaden School to break ground Friday on 30-acre campus in downtown Bentonville

by Jennifer Joyner (JJoyner@nwabj.com) 1,009 views 

Construction of the Thaden School on a 30-acre campus in downtown Bentonville is underway, and the new private secondary school will host a groundbreaking ceremony Friday (Nov. 3) at 8:30 a.m.

The Walton Family Foundation-backed school is located in the Market District on property formerly home to the Benton County Fair for nearly 80 years.

The first phase of construction is scheduled for completion in 2018, with the rest to follow by 2020, according to a press release from the school, which opened this fall in temporary classrooms and offices on the site.

It opened with students in grades 7 and 9, and the school’s plan is to grow the student population incrementally, with a goal of reaching 420 students in grades 6-12 by 2020.

There are now 26 seventh-graders and 20 ninth-graders on campus, said communications manager Sonia Faciszewski. Applications are now being accepted for the 2018 school year for grades 7-10.

The design of the new campus was funded by the Walton Foundation, because Thaden School was selected to be part of its Design Excellence Program, which promotes high standards of design in the development of future public buildings and spaces in Benton and Washington counties.

Architects on the project are Eskew+Dumez+Ripple of New Orleans and Marlon Blackwell Architects of Fayetteville. Andropogon of Philadelphia is leading design of the campus landscape.

The design focuses on indoor-outdoor elements, with the intention of creating “a varied and innovative learning environment,” according to the school. “Many classrooms and work areas open into adjacent outdoor areas, and a variety of porches, pavilions and breezeways further extend the open-air feeling of the school.”

Environmental sustainability was also emphasized, according to the release. “The buildings and landscape features have been designed in ways that will give students hands-on opportunities to minimize their environmental impact. Reclaimed materials and structures will also be integrated into the fabric of the school, beginning with the historic home of Louise Thaden.”

A home where the school’s namesake once lived will be relocated to the property and is now in storage, Faciszewski said.

Thaden was a Bentonville native who died in 1979 at the age of 74 and was one of the “greatest aviators of her time,” according to the release.

She was the first woman to win the Bendix trophy, the first female pilot licensed in Ohio and the fourth woman in the U.S. to earn a transport pilot rating. She is the only female to simultaneously hold records for speed, altitude and endurance in an airplane. Her achievements earned her a place in the Smithsonian National Air Space Museum, and she was inducted in the National Aviation Hall of Fame in 1999.

Her home used to be located on Central Avenue in downtown Bentonville and was donated by the Scott family to the school.

The land for the school’s campus was donated by Wal-Mart Stores. Before it was the Benton County fairgrounds, the site served as the campus for three different educational institutions, including Bentonville High School when Thaden was a student there.

Speakers at the Thaden School groundbreaking ceremony will include Karen Minkel, director of the Walton Foundation’s Home Region Program and chair of the Thaden School Board of Directors; Monte Harris, a Bentonville resident and area historian; and Clayton Marsh, founding head of Thaden School.

Marsh previously told Talk Business & Politics the Walton Foundation completed a feasibility study in recent years that looked at gaps in the NWA’s educational system, and an additional private school choice was deemed a priority. He said the feasibility study showed roughly 68% of residents in Bentonville and the region at large were in favor of another private school option.

The school plans to have an average class size of 15 students and 60 students per grade. Its stated mission is “to provide a balanced and challenging education that ignites in its students a passion for discovery and learning; prepares them to succeed in college; and inspires them to lead lives of integrity, purpose and responsible global citizenship.

“Thaden will offer a highly integrated curriculum; programs for civic engagement; creative and performing arts; athletics; and an innovative and sustainable campus with indoor and outdoor teaching spaces,” according to the school.

The school features a “rigorous” curriculum that balances sciences and humanities, Marsh said.

Its three educational specialty programs fall under wheels, reels and meals — or bicycling, film and culinary — although the school said it integrates multiple fields of study and has an emphasis on community engagement.

Outside of their academic coursework, Thaden students will have opportunities to develop as leaders, volunteers and contributors to the life and spirit of the greater community, Marsh said.

The cost to attend ranges from $500 to $24,800 annually depending on a family’s ability to pay. Households making less than $80,000 annually are charged $500, according to the Thaden School website. Many of the school’s expenses are subsidized through philanthropic contributions with partners including the Walton Foundation.

The school’s leadership has said diversity is key to the establishment of a thriving school and has worked with organizations including the Cisneros Center, which works with Hispanic and Marshallese families, to raise awareness about what Thaden has to offer.

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