The Future School of Fort Smith will break ground on its $5.5 million renovation and addition project Aug. 13 while celebrating a $1.25 million matching grant from the Siloam Springs-based Windgate Foundation.
The school’s board on Jan. 21 approved the building expansion, which will add 18,000 square feet to the existing school. The school is now housed in the 16,000 square feet former Girls Inc. building on North Seventh Street. At the time the addition was approved, Superintendent Boyd Logan said the expansion would replace modular buildings the school uses and add enough classroom space that the school can open to ninth grade students.
In April, the school received authorization from the state Charter School Authorizing Panel, which oversees the authorization renewal, revision and revocation of charters in Arkansas, to accept ninth-grade students for the 2021-22 school year, adding to its 10th, 11th and 12th grade classes. The Windgate grant, announced Wednesday (Aug. 5) takes the school one step closer to their project goal.
“We are super excited about this grant. We are focused on completing the building project,” Logan said. “This will double our square footage, double our teaching spaces. We won’t need modular buildings. We will be in a modern facility that will facilitate the mission of our school.”
The school opened its doors Aug. 22, 2016, in downtown Fort Smith as a tuition-free, public charter high school centered on a personalized approach to learning via student-designed internships, personalized learning plans, and an advisor for each student. It now serves students in 10th through 12th grade and graduated its first class of seniors in May 2019. The school anticipates about 65 ninth-grade students in the first year, with a goal of having 100 in each grade within a few years for a total enrollment of 400, Logan said.
The building project also received a $1 million donation in January from Dwight Curry, a Fort Smith businessman and founder of Dream Alliance, a Fort Smith-based philanthropic group working to support innovation in community-centered services for local residents, and a $650,000 Walton Family Foundation Grant, Logan said. The school also has a loan for the expansion financed through Civic Builders, which specializes in providing financing for charter schools, he said.
Though the school does receive state funding, it does not receive in monies from local millage. In July 2017, the school secured a $600,000 matching grant from the Windgate Foundation. In May, the school received a just under $1.25 million federal charter school program expansion grant to help add the ninth grade class, said Trish Flanagan, chief growth officer for the Future School and the founder/CEO of Think Future.
“This allows us to take what we are doing to the next level, to iron out some of the kinks and to improve the model for high school in Arkansas and in the nation,” Flanagan said, noting the Arkansas Public School Resource Center helped the school get the grant “this round.”
Administration expects the building project to be completed in August 2021, at which time the school will open to freshmen. This move will coincide with when the new freshmen centers will open at both Fort Smith Public Schools high schools – Northside High School and Southside High School.
Classes for the 2020-21 school year will begin Aug. 26, Boyd said, noting the administration will work with students to customize how school will look for each one due to situations surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Some students might be able to come one day a week, some might need to be here five days a week. And it’s going to be fluid because situations are going to change for students,” Boyd said. “That’s one of the advantages to our small size, we can basically tailor it individually based on what the students and the families need.”