Lafayette Prep Academy Plans New Home at Lafayette Baptist Church

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Lafayette Prep - St. Louis, MO

Lafayette Preparatory Academy (LPA), a K-5 public charter school founded in 2013, intends to develop a campus in the Lafayette Square neighborhood. Currently, the school has 120 students in K-3 at its temporary facility located at the Christ Church Cathedral in downtown St. Louis.

LPA has partnered with Urban Improvement Construction (UIC) to acquire and renovate the former school at Lafayette Baptist Church. The 20,000 sq. ft. school building at Lafayette and Mississippi avenues, vacant for several years, is planned to serve as the neighborhood campus for approximately 270 children in grades K-5 by early 2016. The adjacent Lafayette Baptist Church main building, including the sanctuary has been purchased by City Church, which aims to establish a new congregation.

UIC is overseeing the $2.1 million Lafayette Square campus project. It will include 12 spacious classrooms, a music room, an art room, a gym, and staff support areas. Plans also call for thebuilding of a small playground. In addition, Lafayette Park will be utilized as another recreation space for the school.

In 2012 UIC completed the new home for City Garden Montessori Charter School, just north of Tower Grove Park and the Missouri Botanical Garden. The firm offers contracting, design, and real estate development services. UIC has been central in the redevelopment of Botanical Heights. Other neighborhood projects include the fashionable Olio and its sister restaurant Elaia.

A $100,000 capital campaign to contribute equity funding for the LPA project is underway. “The founding vision of LPA is to become a neighborhood school, offering families living in and near downtown, the core area of St. Louis, a quality public education,” said Susan Marino, Head of School at LPA.

Lafayette Prep - St. Louis, MO

The University of Missouri St. Louis is the school’s sponsor. Being a nonstandard educational model, there are specific accountability methods unique to charter schools. One is they operate under a contract, referred to as the “charter,” with a public entity such as a state university or state department, referred to as the charter school’s “sponsor.”

LPA representatives will be meeting with residents and businesses at two Lafayette Square community meetings later this month to explain the project and fundraising campaign. More information on the school and capital campaign can be found here.

The Lafayette Park Baptist Church was founded in 1868 on Park Avenue near Twelfth Street. The growing congregation, formerly known as the Park Avenue Baptist Church, purchased the site at the southeast corner of Lafayette and Mississippi avenues in 1888. A historic St. Louis storm would severely damage the church eight years later.

Lafayette Prep - St. Louis, MO

According to Michael Allen, Director of the Preservation Research Office, “The architecture of the Lafayette Park Baptist Church and school aren’t flashy, and don’t fit the Gilded Age image most people have of Lafayette Square. Yet they are sturdy historic buildings that long have served the neighborhood, and are well-suited for the academy.”

Allen believes the golden era of converting vacant school buildings into residential developments is over. He credits this, in part, to changes in low income housing tax credit allocation. According to Allen, “The best fate for most vacant public school buildings now will come through a new educational function — hopefully not demolition.”

“One cannot help but wonder if LPA might have been as good of a fit for the old Hodgen School just west of the Square, demolished by the St. Louis Public Schools in 2012,” Allen continued.”The district needs to make sure that private and charter schools have a real chance at reusing unused educational architecture built at great taxpayer expense.”

At approximately 5:00 p.m. on Wednesday, May 27, 1896, area barometers began to dramatically drop. An F-4 tornado rambled through damaging or destroying much of the neighborhood, including the Lafayette Park Baptist Church. It then crossed the Mississippi River into East St. Louis. In 20 minutes the storm had demolished 311 buildings, seriously compromised 7,200 more, and killed 255 people.

The red and white terra cotta Tudor Gothic mode Revival style church sustained approximately $8,000 of damage during the Great Cyclone of 1896, a large sum at the time. The school building, formerly the Baptist Orphans’ home, immediately to the east was also in peril, having partially collapsed.

Later in 1896 the church and building were rebuilt at the same site. In 1923 an annex was added with the entrance on Mississippi Avenue. Then in 1926 the church was expanded again to allow for increased membership. By 1933 the church had 1,300 members with 1,400 students enrolled in its Sunday School.

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  • Mike Pierson

    This building is up in flames right now. A Facebook friend of mine who lives in a neighboring building uploaded pictures. So sad and scary.

  • John K

    To LPA Supporters and Paul Brown-
    If you are still undecided on a new location, I would like to make you aware of an available option that would meet all of your needs and is turn key available. It is the former Central Catholic High School Campus at 1106 Jefferson. It is a 2 acre campus with all the amenities a school needs – classrooms, administrative offices, cafeteria, art/music rooms, library, playgrounds, huge green grass playing field, parking and it is on the door step of a potential major redevelopment area. It also has a huge civil war era church that has been used for assemblies, theatre and gym class.
    No fundraising or construction necessary. Take a tour and if you like it sign a lease and move in. Contact me at [email protected] for more info. Thanks

  • Mike F

    Ok, here it is:

    • Mike F

      Ok, that is strange. I can’t see the pic I posted. Are others able to view it?

      • Alex Ihnen

        Don’t see it.

      • Geoff Whittington

        Don’t see it.

      • matimal

        I see it.

  • Mike F

    Lafayette Park Baptist Church, Lafayette and Mississippi Avenues, 27 May, 1896:

  • LPA Supporter

    This article is missing pertinent facts, which give the impression
    that the site in question is a “done deal”. In actuality, it is far
    from done. A troubling omission is that the $100k being raised does not
    actually buy the community a school building. Under the discussed terms the building
    will be leased and LPA will only have an option to purchase in five years. The
    option price is not negotiated up-front so the school may not be able to afford
    it. Many parents are upset with the people tasked with fundraising for not
    being more up front about this in their solicitations.

    A recent LPA effort that has become public knowledge focused
    around purchasing a downtown building via New Market Tax Credits and a capital
    campaign. However, the application for the tax credits was denied in part
    because the mayor’s office chose not to support LPA’s proposal over the other
    tax credit applications. Furthermore, LPA is pursuing other options downtown
    for a permanent location while also debating the Lafayette Square location.
    None of these options are more likely than the next, and LPA has as good of a
    chance as staying in a downtown location as it does moving to Lafayette Square.

    Here are some issues with the current proposal in Lafayette Square that will help illustrate why this location is far from finalized:

    1. Lack of sufficient staff and event parking.
    2. Lack of playground. The ‘small playground’ referred to is only big enough to accommodate one class at a time and assumes the ability to use of a small patch of asphalt that is 50% owned by the church. The use of this space and some of the church’s parking is based on nothing more than a gentleman’s agreement, and there are insurance costs that may prove to be too high for the church.
    3. Lack of a cafeteria. Kids will be required to eat in their classrooms.
    4. The gym is small and inadequate for modern needs. Notice the measurements were left off of the publicly posted floorpans.
    5. Lack of space for science or technology labs.
    6. The current proposal is predicated on LPA allowing the church to use some of its space for special events in exchange for the parking/playground access (see item 2). This poses another legal hurdle.
    7. There are several considerable obstacles to clear for the renovation, most of which have to do with combining the church and school parcels for tax incentive purposes. The entire deal is speculative.

  • LPA Parent

    Lafayette Preparatory Academy is a phenomenal school! Fabulous teachers, staff and administrators with a tight-knit community of families. Enroll now before everyone finds out about this amazing place and all the seats are full!

    • John R

      I know it was started up with downtown and Lafayette Square as the intended service area, but does it have neighborhood restrictions like CityGarden Montessori?

      • Paul M. Brown

        LPA has a targeted attendance zone (Downtown, Downtown West, Lafayette Square, Soulard, LaSalle Park, and Clinton Peabody), but it does not currently restrict attendance to any particular neighborhood.

  • Paul M. Brown

    House Bill 41, passed by the Missouri House and now pending before the Senate Education Committee, would make it easier for public charter schools to acquire unused school buildings and return them to their intended use of providing free public education to kids in the City.

  • John R

    “Allen believes the golden era of converting vacant school buildings into residential developments is over. He credits this, in part, to changes in low income housing tax credit allocation.”

    What are these changes? I did see that (I believe) all of the numerous proposals for residential re-use of vacated City schools were rejected at the last round. I also saw a proposal at the state level to encourage credits to be awarded to projects outside low-income areas and to limit them to projects under 50 units. I can see some pros to that but fear the con ledger far outweighs that…. for example it appears the Arcade/Wright project would have been rejected under that criteria. Anway, thanks for the post and I’ll drop a recommendation for a story on the state of LIHTCs into the suggestion box!

    • Geoff Whittington

      Thanks John. Appreciate it, and will look into an LIHTC item. Had hoped to gather more info in that regard, but ran out of time. Compiled item last night following a 12-hour factory shift.

      • John R

        I’ve noticed the laziness of the nextstl crew! Anyway, it is interesting to see a number of reform efforts regarding LIHTC and Section 8 to encourage a greater distribution of low income throughout the region rather than concentrated in a few lower income areas — and the Ferguson issue has certainly been a catalyst for this examination — but any changes should be looked at carefully. I personally believe the best projects tend to be mixed-income ones that save historic buildings while being located in mixed-income areas with decent transit.

        • tgeperson

          This a free web site with a wealth of information, far more extensive on urban development and real estate issues than anything you would see in the Biz Journal or PD. I think the authors here are anything but lazy.

          • Alex Ihnen

            I just assumed sarcasm, but thank you. 🙂

    • Presbyterian

      The state is awarding LIHTCs to projects with a lower per-unit cost. Historic school renovations tend to be costlier per unit. As a result, all of them got denied last year.