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Lee’s Summit Innovation Campus leaders want to expand with new building

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LEE'S SUMMIT, Mo. --- Lee's Summit education officials want millions of dollars in improvements made to their schools.  On Thursday night, the R-7 Board of Education will decide whether to approve a $40-million dollar No-Tax-Increase bond issue.  If passed, it will be placed on the April 7 ballot.

The highlight of this bond is the construction of a new building for the nationally known Innovation Campus.  It's a partnership between Lee's Summit R-7 Schools, the University of Central Missouri and 12 local businesses.  Engineering and computer science students in the program take college courses their final two years of high school while interning year-round at a company that pays the student's college tuition.  In four years, the students graduate debt-free with a bachelor's degree and a job with the business that financed their education.

Currently the 60 students involved in the program go to class at the Summit Technology Academy at 777 Northwest Blue Parkway in Lee's Summit, Mo.  The school district renovated the building for the program but it doesn't fit the student's needs and they are beginning to run out of space.

While district officials have not yet decided on a location for the new building, the University of Central Missouri wants to pay for 60% of the total cost.  Lee's Summit Schools would finance $16-million dollars of the project, which they say would be less money overall than if they continue to lease the current building.

"There's an opportunity to seize a partnership that brings value to the students and the taxpayers that isn't typical," said Dr. David McGehee, Lee's Summit Superintendent.  "We get a state of the art facility built for what we want to do at a lower cost to the taxpayer, [plus] being able to design a facility specifically targeted toward the programs that exist today as well as making that facility is flexible enough so we can offer new programs in the future."

"It would be really nice.  Plus we could have our own equipment.  Kind of have a headquarters," said Quinn Aylward, a senior engineering major with the Innovation Campus.  "Right now I'm driving between the UCM building over there, here (the Summit Technology Academy), and Longview Community College.  I'm kind of all over the place, so a (single) building would be nice."

The new building would not just house Innovation Campus students.  Those taking classes in nursing and biomedical sciences would also get their own space.  And besides Lee's Summit students, UCM students would also take classes in this new building.  It's a prospect that excites those currently in the program.

"If there's a building, there would be a more solid thing to point to, saying hey, here's a building, here's where we want you to come, want you to do," said Aylward.  It would "definitely make the program more solid."

Lee's Summit officials say the rest of the bond money would pay for various improvements to 18 Lee's Summit schools.  Plus every elementary school in the district would receive upgrades to their playground equipment.