Grand Rapids University Prep Academy (UPrep) will officially break ground on a new $9 million project including a three-story, 53,260-square-foot building on Division Avenue just south of downtown Grand Rapids.
Officials expect phase one of the two-phase project will be ready for students by October, with phase two completed and ready for occupancy by June 2013.
Wayman Britt, assistant county administrator for Kent County and UPrep building committee chair, said crews already set the foundations for the project, with steel framing to begin very soon.
The school's board of directors scheduled an official groundbreaking for the project at 4 p.m., Tuesday, June 12.
UPrep, which opened in 2008, occupied the former City High School, but even when the school launched, the group knew that it would eventually need to renovate and add on to accommodate growth. The board scrapped plans to renovate the current facility when it purchased a two-acre parcel at 512 S. Division Ave owned by the Inner City Christian Federation.
"The complexity of trying to renovate and put an addition on our current building was just too tremendous," said Brian Cloyd, chair of the UPrep board and vice president of global communications for Steelcase Inc. "Because we're in a historical district, there were issues early on with designing a building within the architecture of the district."
Financial issues involved in the deal also drove concerns, he said. As the pace of the process dragged and the school ran out of room, the group decided to start with a clean slate at about the same cost of a remodel.
"Once we did an analysis between a renovation and addition instead of building from the ground up, it just made more sense to build new," Cloyd said.
Because UPrep is a public-private partnership, the building project progressed at a fast pace, Britt said.
The UPrep board wanted a space that was close to downtown so students could have easy access to the central business district for mandatory internships and job-shadows, Cloyd said. With few suitable options, UPrep lucked out getting the location on Division Avenue, he said.
UPrep originally formed in 2007 as one of Grand Rapids Public School's Centers for Innovation. The school operated as a public-private partnership with several local corporations and foundations, including the Frey Foundation and Van Andel Institute, among others.
Cloyd said Steelcase's work on urban education extends almost a decade, first with the West Michigan Center for Arts and Technology and now UPrep. Cloyd said in the midst of working on the WMCAT project, Steelcase and others business leaders convened to find out what the role of business should be in education.
"We thought there should be more activity along the lines of a partnership with the schools," he said. "We started by identifying any models that existed."
Working under model similar to Detroit University Prep Academy — a charter school started by Doug Ross, now the Detroit Public Schools' chief innovation officer — some supporters of the GRPS Centers of Innovation program formed a nonprofit advisory board that went on to become UPrep.
Cloyd said the model is unique in that the school remains part of Grand Rapids Public Schools, but UPrep's agreement allows the board to operate the program and act as a financial adviser.
With an emphasis on college preparedness and a goal of placing at least 90 percent of the students in a post-secondary education institution, UPrep hopes to extract the best practices in teaching methods and administrative functions that could be applied to the rest of the GRPS system.
UPrep admits students by lottery and parents can expect a student-to-teacher ratio of about 16:1. Teachers or "advisories" will collaborate in teams on language arts and humanities and math and science. They will also perform weekly one-on-one meetings with students to assess individual student progress and needs. UPrep will also have quarterly "exhibitions" where students will present their lessons and class projects to their classmates, teachers and parents.
Another unique aspect of the school's programming is the Teen Career Exploration Opportunities (CEO) program. Cloyd said the program is meant to get students an early look at real-world careers that align with their interests.
During the sixth grade and seventh grade years, professionals from the community will visit the school through a partnership with Junior Achievement. In eighth grade, students will participate in half-day job shadow events. Starting in high school, students will participate in a mandatory two-day-per-week internship for 10 weeks. Cloyd said each year is meant to build on the other.
"One of the things we talk a lot about with the school district is how we can continue to work with them," Cloyd said. "We like to think of the school as an incubator of education."