Classical School Brings New Life to Classic Rural Community Building
by Kristen McCarver
Overshadowed by a stately brick building in downtown Fruitland, the faded blue mailbox marked “Fruitland Community Library Book Drop” hints at the structure’s past purpose. Chain-link fence surrounds the entire perimeter to protect the $3.2 million-dollar transformation taking place inside.
Constructed as a school in 1928, the stalwart structure has been a landmark ever since. When it was closed as a school in the late 80’s, a foundation formed by the community purchased the building to preserve it as “useful community space”.
Since then, it has been a library, was considered for office space by the City of Fruitland, and most recently, a preschool. But the renovation currently underway will return the structure to its original purpose; Treasure Valley Classical Academy, a tuition-free public charter school, will open its doors in August of 2019 in the fully-renovated building.
The vision of TVCA is to “form future citizens who uphold the ideals of our country’s founding and promote the continuation of our American experiment—through a classical, great books curriculum designed to engage the student in the highest matters and the deepest questions of truth, justice, virtue, and beauty.” Led by former Air Force Colonel Stephen Lambert, TVCA will bring a classical education choice to a rural Idaho town.
Academia was woven throughout the fabric of his military career, and shortly after his retirement from the Air Force, he was drawn to the Barney Charter School Initiative (BCSI), which helps create K-12 classical charter schools across the country. Steve helped launch Atlanta Classical Academy, a BCSI school, in 2014. He became its principal in 2017. Shortly thereafter, he learned that a group of Idahoans was interested in launching a BCSI school. BCSI flew him to Idaho to consult with the group planning a school, and while visiting the state he learned about Bluum’s Idaho New School Fellowship.
This building, a community icon with its substantial brick construction and beautiful architectural features, is a natural fit for a school where students will be immersed in a “concentrated study of the core academic disciplines: history, literature, mathematics, and science.”
TVCA will open its doors to K-6 students in the fall of 2019, and add one grade per year to become a K-12 school. The $3.2 million in upgrades will help the school make the most of their historic space. What used to be the cafeteria in the basement is now a forest of aluminum studs; the framework of what will become the K-6 classrooms, nestled along a hallway together. An old stage in the gym has been framed off to create an art studio. The gym will serve as both that and a cafeteria, with the kitchen replacing what is currently the locker-room showers.
According to Steve, “schools function best when they are woven into the fabric and ethos of the community.” The fact that a group of parents has worked to help bring an option like this to their rural town illustrates their commitment to their students and community. The auditorium, a unique feature for any school, will serve to deepen the community connection. Open to the public, the spacious auditorium with rosettes adorning the apron of the stage and iron-and-wood theater chairs, will serve as a platform for public discourse. It will host discussions about culture and books to “try to elevate the conversation to talk about the true and the good and the beautiful,” said Lambert. There are also plans to host classic movie nights.
Purchasing facilities is a challenge for all schools, but especially for public charter schools, since they can’t raise bond or levy funds the way that district schools can. Some charters in Idaho receive key assistance from Bluum’s national nonprofit partners at Building Hope. They specialize in helping public charter schools find, finance, develop, and build or remodel facilities, so schools can sustainably afford to provide the best learning environment possible for their students. TVCA is one of very few Idaho charter schools to make their home in a historic building.
Although Steve has no way to know what the walls are hiding, he is inspired by the parents who are excited by the school’s mission and want to see their kids flourish in this setting. He says that having the ability to rebuild a school with such a special history is only out-shined by the dedication Fruitland and other area families have to their children’s future.