Former City Hall could become learning center – Herald Democrat

By Michael Hutchins Herald Democrat

The old brick building at 500 W. Chestnut served many roles in the community. From its time as phone company office to the center of the community as Denison City Hall, the building has served the community around it with distinction for generations.

Now, the site may soon add a place of education to its list of services. Representatives for Texoma Homeschool Co-op recently announced plans to potentially convert the former municipal building into a learning center, complete with classes and other educational opportunities for students across Texoma.

The learning center and academy comes as the fledgling homeschool co-op has grown in its first year and is in need of additional space. With this space, organizers hope to expand the services and educational opportunities the co-op can offer to include teacher-led classes and potentially music and fine arts education.

“We’re meeting in a local church, and they’ve been wonderful, but we are just outgrowing their space,” Texoma Homeschool Cofounder Katie Radcliffe said. “I want to be able to not say no, which caused me to start looking for different spaces.”

Radcliffe said the origins of the co-op itself date back a little over a year ago when she was considering options for raising the youngest two of her six children. The oldest children were approaching or at graduation age and would not transition as easily to the homeschool environment. Initially, she planned to the middle children, who were in middle school, finish their schooling as well. However, that changed with the COVID-19 pandemic and Radcliffe withdrew them from public school.

“I run a home-school co-op,” she said. “If you are not familiar with what that is, homeschooling families come together and basically they’re all structured differently. Ours is structured where one day a week kids and parents come together and just kind of cooperatively teach everyone’s kids.”

Initially, she planned to find a co-op to assist in her children’s educations and provide the social element that is often missing from homeschool environments. However, many established co-ops had a wait list while others were missing some vital element or another, she said.

“I just couldn’t force my kids to go a full year without a group,” she said.

This led Radcliffe to look into creating her own co-op, which started in September 2021 and became a registered non-profit earlier this year.

Currently, the co-op meets one day a week where parents come together and cooperatively teach everyone’s children. The group has rented space out from a local church to serve as a hub during these meetings.

Initially, the group had about 50 students, but has grown since then to nearly double that number. This has taxed it’s available space and led organizers to seek out additional space elsewhere. Outside of the church building, space options were limited due to the demands of the group. The best options were former commercial spaces, but those were few and far between. Eventually, Radcliffe found the former city hall building.

The building at 500 W. Chestnut first served a phone company before the city made it into the primary city hall building in the mid 1990s. The building served this role for more than two decades until the city needed more space and moved into the current city hall building only a few blocks away on Main Street in 2018.

Plans for the site call for it to serve two roles: as the hub for the co-op one day a week and as a learning academy two days a week. Radcliffe said plans call for outside educators to come in and lead those academy classes. In addition to providing additional education, these classes will also help with record keeping and grading, which could assist with college admissiontance.

“A lot of times, it gets to the point where the kids are in middle school or high school and the parents feel out of their depth,” she said. Maybe they never learned chemistry and they have no idea how to teach it to kids.”

With the additional space comes additional costs, however. Radcliffe said she hopes that the addition of the academy-style classes and learning center activities can help offset some of this expense as the co-op doesn’t bring in enough funding otherwise due to its low costs.

‘That (the co-op) is very lost cost,’ she said. “We’re talking $80 for the full semester. So, that means for 12 weeks and $80 a kid gets a whole day of programming. So, from a family perspective, that is affordable.”

A crowdfunding campaign has started to help with startup and early expenses. Currently, organizers hope to open the learning center in September 2023.

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