Downtown Kansas City is getting a high school — the first in years.
That’s the centerpiece of a merger announced Wednesday of two Kansas City public charter schools, Crossroads Academy and Scuola Vita Nuova.
The schools, which both offer kindergarten through eighth grade, will merge in July 2017 and expand to serve students from kindergarten through high school.
The new downtown high school — designed to accommodate up to 600 students — would open the following summer.
School officials said the high school would be near the Kansas City streetcar line, which is scheduled to start operating this spring on Main Street between Crown Center and the River Market. A specific site for the school has not been determined, and no financing information was disclosed.
Crossroads Academy also announced Wednesday it will open a new elementary school this August, starting with 186 students in grades K-3 with plans to grow to 422 students in grades K-8.
Crossroads said it has selected the former United Way of Greater Kansas City headquarters at 11th and Washington streets in the Quality Hill area to house its second elementary school.
Dean Johnson, Crossroads’ executive director, said it cost $4 million to acquire and renovate the building. The school will be named Quality Hill Academy.
The Victorian-era brick building was once a centerpiece of what had become a nonprofit campus on Quality Hill, but the property has been vacant the past few years.
“From day one, our goal has been to offer children and their families an education using real-world classrooms in a collaborative learning environment, with a diverse student body,” Johnson said in a statement. “We saw a need and set out to fill it, and with these expansions we continue to fulfill that mission.”
He said Crossroads Academy and Scuola Vita Nuova will continue to operate and maintain their school identities but will be run by a single board, tucked under a single charter. Both schools are sponsored by the University of Central Missouri.
Johnson said leaders of the two schools have discussed a merger over the last six months. The two schools were pulled together because of their proximity, similar approaches and curriculum. Faculty at the two schools had already spent time together in professional development.
The two schools and the new elementary school will feed the new high school.
“One of the most frequently asked questions we have gotten from parents was ‘What about a new high school?’ ” Johnson said.
The high school will offer a variety of advanced placement courses and electives, along with sports, music, drama programs and other extracurricular activities.
Kristin and Ricky Beach are both ecstatic and saddened by the news of a new high school.
They have two boys who have attended Scuola Vita Nuova the past seven years. And Kristin Beach teaches English as a second language to kindergarten, first and second grade students there.
“I think it is wonderful,” she said. “Outside of the Kansas City public school district, there are really limited options in the area for parents once their child passes the eighth grade in the Kansas City district. But by the time the high school opens in two years, both her boys, ages 13 and 14, will be too old to start there.
“We don’t know what we are going to do,” Beach said, adding that she and her husband are considering moving out of the city so their boys can go to a suburban high school.
School leaders said while their mission is more about providing a seamless education for Crossroads and Scuola Vita Nuova students, a high school option might keep more young families living downtown.
Downtown leaders and others were enthusiastic about the new elementary school and the promise of a high school.
“To be able to offer kindergarten through high school in downtown has been one of our major goals,” said Bill Dietrich, president of the Downtown Council, which represents leading businesses and property owners.
Dietrich said the partnership between the charter schools “is important because it will provide the critical mass in students and expertise to make the new high school be viable.”
Sean O’Byrne, Downtown Council vice president of business development, said the agency helped the Crossroads Academy acquire the former United Way headquarters for its expansion school, which will accommodate students who have been on a waiting list.
The charter schools are an option for parents skeptical about Kansas City Public Schools, which remains provisionally accredited.
Upon hearing about the planned merger, school district leaders did not shy from competition.
“Although there may be many educational choices for students and families, KCPS is on the cusp of achieving full accreditation and we will continue to do the hard work of making Kansas City Public Schools the go-to educational choice for all families,” interim superintendent Al Tunis said.
Scuola Vita Nuova, which is Italian for School of New Life, is one of the city’s original charter schools. It was founded in 1999 in the Northeast neighborhood to help educate Kansas City’s growing immigrant community in that area.
The school outgrew its original space and in 2014 relocated to the former Don Bosco School, where it currently serves 204 students and has more than 100 children on its wait list, school officials said.
Crossroads opened in 2012 in the heart of downtown to help satisfy a need recognized by downtown developers who wanted to attract more young families to the area. As one of the top-rated schools in Kansas City, Crossroads serves 347 students, with more than 100 children waiting to get in.
The Star’s Lynn Horsley contributed to this report.