With a handful of elementary schools using trailers for classrooms and with the number of students steadily increasing over the past few years, the Independence School District saw a need to build a new school. The district has added 163 students since the 2016-17 school year.
That was one reason the district asked for, and got, voter approved in April 2017 for a $38 million bond issue. That paid for work on additions to all three high schools and paved the way for the $20 million construction of Cassell Park Elementary School, which is still being built and is ahead of schedule, according to district facilities director Salum Stutzer.
“Construction is going really well,” Stutzer said. “We are ahead of schedule as far as substantial completion. We are looking to wrap this up in late December, early January. Right now they are working on the interior framing.”
The school, two stories tall and 69,000 square feet, is projected to open in 2019 with summer school classes. It will have 32 classrooms and will accommodate 500 to 550 students.
It’s on a plot where Cassell Park, a baseball field, used to sit at 31st Street and Hardy Avenue in southwest Independence.
Former Independence School Board Member Ann Franklin, who did research on the Cassell name, said the Kansas City School district used to own Cassell Park even after the Independence School District annexed the western Independence and Sugar Creek parts of the Kansas City district 10 years ago.
“We at the time didn’t know that the Kansas City School District owned Cassell Park,” Franklin said. “That should have been a part of the annexation, but they were not aware of it and we were not aware of it, so it was not included in the properties that were annexed.”
Once the Independence district found out about that, the Kansas City district agreed to sell it. After doing some research, Franklin said she found out that Bill Cassell, who owned an engineering company, donated property to the Kansas district in the name of his sister, a teacher at William Chrisman and Van Horn high schools.
The district decided to name the school after the park. It will be a feeder for Van Horn High School, and the mascot will be the Knights.
“It will be a high-tech, high collaboration setting for our teachers and our students,” Superintendent Dale Herl said. “We will have a tech integrationist on staff, and Project Lead the Way will be a part of the curricular offerings. We’ll integrate an engineering, STEM-based curriculum.”
“We’ll also have looping for our teachers, so a kindergarten teacher will move up with her class to first grade and second to third and fourth to fifth.”
Herl said that for the most part that the teachers will transfer from other buildings, but some positions for special classes such as physical education, music and art will be open. There will also be jobs for janitorial and nutrition services.
The new school will allow the district to get rid of classroom trailers at Fairmont, Korte and Three Trails elementary schools.
“Parents are excited that we will no longer have any mobile trailers,” Herl said. “Making Three Trails a model elementary school was well received by parents. This one will be the same model.”