Two schools in one

Stakeholders discuss Inspire School’s move to Chapman Elementary

Eric Nilsson, principal of Inspire School of Arts and Sciences, stands outside of the portable buildings the high school now occupies on the Chico High campus.

Eric Nilsson, principal of Inspire School of Arts and Sciences, stands outside of the portable buildings the high school now occupies on the Chico High campus.

Photo By kyle delmar

“Let’s start at the end,” said Eric Nilsson, principal of Inspire School of Arts and Sciences, Chico Unified School District’s new “internal” charter high-school currently housed in portable classrooms on the Chico High School campus. The much-talked-about possible move of Inspire School to the Chapman Elementary School campus in the fall of 2012, he said in a recent interview, is “a done deal.”

The deal was made on Feb. 2, when the CUSD Board of Trustees voted, in a board workshop, 3-2 in favor of having Inspire share the Chapman campus. Underutilized portables at Chapman will be used by Inspire, and other portables will be added in the grassy area at the rear of the school.

The board’s vote, as Nilsson wrote in an upbeat e-mail sent out on Feb. 5 to Inspire students and parents, “also included that … architects draw up plans for … a permanent building [on the Chapman site] that has a black-box theater, dance studio, dining space and several other support spaces for the [Inspire] educational program.”

The total cost of the Inspire relocation—including future building on the Chapman site—is estimated to total $7,455,500.

Inspire School opened its doors last fall to 280 students. In addition to those from Chico, students come from Paradise, Oroville, Durham and Orland to take advantage of the high school’s unique curriculum, which includes innovative classes such as French Film and Peace Studies, as well as an expansive program of science and performing-arts classes.

“We are full at all grade levels, and have waiting lists,” Nilsson said. “We hope to increase to 390 students next year, if possible.

“We would prefer to have our own separate identity at a separate site,” Nilsson acknowledged. The thought of moving into the Chico Junior High School campus, he said, was appealing, as it is in close proximity to Chico State, where Inspire has developed a partnership with the College of Engineering, Computer Science and Construction Management “to do numerous working field trips to study animation and 3-D modeling,” as well as with the university’s kinesiology and theater departments. Also, he would have preferred that Inspire remain close to Bidwell Park and the Gateway Science Museum.

However, Nilsson stressed, “Chapman was always under consideration—from our point of view and from the district’s point of view.” His Feb. 5 e-mail praised Chapman School’s proximity to sustainability-focused Sierra Nevada Brewing Co. (“Great possibilities for our science program”) and suggested that Inspire School might have a shuttle bus to Chico State.

Michael Weissenborn, CUSD facilities planner and construction manager, echoed Nilsson: “Before Inspire opened last fall, we had one year of planning. In that planning process … we did a cursory review of where they would be located. Chico High was assumed to be a temporary location. In this process, they asked me to come out and review Chapman. Their enthusiasm was pretty high on it.”

The Chapman campus, Weissenborn said, “has nice amenities on the site.” Most important, he said, is “the availability of the opportunity for joint use with CARD,” which includes the CARD “field house” at Community (20th Street) Park that is already being shared with Chapman School students, and the “200 or 300 parking spaces” at the park that can be used by Inspire staff and students.

Chico Junior High was ruled out, he said, because parking would have to be added and the merging of junior-high and high-school students was deemed undesirable. Moving the junior-high students to other campuses was also unacceptable. Parkview Elementary School and Hooker Oak K-8 School were strong contenders, he added, but in both cases fields would have to be paved over for parking. Plus, Parkview and Hooker Oak students would have to be moved to other schools.

Weissenborn said the fears of some Chapman School parents about high-school students driving down neighborhood streets where elementary-school kids are walking have been addressed by the district’s plan to have Inspire’s entrance be located at the rear of the Chapman school grounds, off of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Parkway.

The district plans to refurbish and relocate as many portable classrooms from the Chico High and Pleasant Valley High campuses “as makes good sense,” Weissenborn said. Steel-framed portables can be configured in ways that give Inspire the kind of classroom space it needs for certain programs. “We can put three or four together … and take walls out to create bigger spaces, for example, for lab-type classes,” said Weissenborn.

“We have a lot to do in a short period of time if we’re going to get them set up,” Weissenborn said of the Inspire move. An environmental review to determine CEQA compliance is expected to be completed by July.

As for Chapman principal Ted Sullivan, he is pleased with Inspire’s upcoming move.

“I see it as a nice, symbiotic, positive mesh,” Sullivan said. “A relatively happy forced marriage.”

The age difference between Inspire and Chapman students “is good,” he said. “You have problems if they’re too close in age.” He is looking forward to the opportunity for Chapman students to take advantage of cross-age tutoring with Inspire students, as well as making use of such amenities as Inspire’s audio/video tech labs and proposed black-box theater. Sullivan anticipates that Inspire students will serve as “quality role models” and offer Chapman students “more learning opportunities, which we hope will translate to [test] score increases. … We hope it trickles down, because that’s what the state wants to see.”