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Innovation campus prepares for a new way of educating

July 03, 2017
  • Projects
As seen in the Kansas City Business Journal. Reported by Rob Roberts. (Jun 26, 2017)

The new home of the Missouri Innovation Campus, a program that is reshaping education, is shaping up in Lee’s Summit.

Scheduled to open in August, the $30 million, 135,000-square-foot structure will house a collaborative program that allows a high school junior enrolled in the Lee’s Summit R-7 School District’s Summit Technology Academy to receive a University of Central Missouri bachelor’s degree in one of four high-demand, high-paying fields within just two years after high school.

Despite its focus on education, however, the new structure doesn’t look like a school, noted David Reid, a principal with Gould Evans, the project’s design architect.

According to marching orders received from the partners behind the project, Reid said, “it couldn’t look like a school, an office building or a district building.”

With a no-red-brick rule influencing the building’s exterior, Reid said, the architects opted for articulated aluminum panels over masonry to achieve a look that’s “innovative but timeless.”

Andy Anderson, a senior principal with DLR Group, the architect of record for the project, said the facility is “the first of its kind” in terms of bringing high school and university student populations under the same roof as part of a collaborative accelerated-degree program.

Luke Deets, project executive for McCownGordon Construction, the general contractor for the project, said work on the new facility began in March 2016, creating a tight construction schedule.

But Elaine Metcalf, principal of Summit Technology Academy, said the program that brought the Lee’s Summit school district and UCM together began five years ago with discussions between UCM President Charles Ambrose and university alumni. She said the alumni shared a vision of involving local businesses in the development and delivery of a curriculum that would prepare today’s students for tomorrow’s workplaces.

The resulting Missouri Innovation Campus, a partnership involving not only public schools and higher education but also 40 area businesses, was launched in 2013 in the Summit Technology Academy’s leased space in the north building of the Summit Technology Center, 777 N.W. Blue Parkway.

That building was purchased two years ago by the Cerner Corp., one of the business partners in the Missouri Innovation Campus.

With 60 spaces for classrooms and other teaching experiences, the new facility nearing completion at 1101 N.W. Innovation Parkway will be the new home for the Summit Technology Academy, which was established in 1999 to prepare students from 24 area high schools for technical careers; the Missouri Innovation Campus program; and the UCM-Lee’s Summit campus, which will move from leased space in the south building of the Summit Technology Center.

The new facility is among improvements being financed by a $40 million bond issue approved by Lee's Summit school district voters. Although the school district will be sole owner of the facility, UCM will pick up 60 percent of its cost by making lease payments that will end after 20 years, said Kyle Gorrell, the school district’s director of facilities. The university and district also will share operating costs using the same 60-40 split, he said.

Rick Smetana, operations manager for UCM, said the new facility will house shared spaces, spaces for UCM-Lee’s Summit’s undergraduate and graduate-level classes, and spaces for Summit Technology Academy classes that aren’t involved in the Missouri Innovation Campus program.

The four programs that are involved in the accelerated degree program are designed to end with bachelor of science degrees in systems engineering technology, drafting and design, computer science, and cybersecurity.

Metcalf said one of the Missouri Innovation Campus’ leading business partners, DST Systems Inc., has informed program leaders that “we’ll take every (MIC) graduate we can get” from the systems engineering, computer science and cybersecurity programs.

Paid internships offered by participating businesses help Missouri Innovation Campus students graduate with little or no student debt, she said. Because the internships generally turn into full-time jobs, they generate new employees trained not only in their chosen career fields but in how to apply their talents for a specific employer.

The partners decided during the planning phase that it would be OK for the high school and university student populations to be “fully mingled” in the new facility, Reid said.

The 500 Lee's Summit and 3,000 UCM students using the facility will interact in shared academic areas and common spaces, such as four meetup areas — all near the foot of staircases — where coffee, microwaves for heating up snacks and platforms for entertainment will be available.

Reid said the facility also includes a few places, such as the UCM Learnings Commons, where the university students can go to “escape” the high school crowd for a while.

Other features of the building include abundant daylighting and corridors that dead end, allowing them to double as additional learning areas.

By minimizing the space used solely for circulating, Gorrell said, the design also allowed the building's size to be trimmed from 140,000 to 135,000 square feet, allowing the contractors to complete it on budget.

With finishing touches yet to be made and equipment yet to install, it’s hard to see just how high-tech the facility will be when it opens, the architects, educators and others said during a recent tour.

But to give an idea, they described some of the coming attractions. They will include medical school-caliber skilled nursing labs and simulation rooms; professional-quality digital media technology; high-tech engineering, biotechnology and computer science instruction areas; an international studies area with state-of-the-art distance learning technology; and a testing center that will provide everything from GED to computer software certification testing, with built-in cameras and microphones to prevent cheating.

The best part, Metcalf said, is that the facility and its business partnerships will “help us keep the students being recruited to the East and West coasts right here.”

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