Urban Garden Montessori School to Begin Classes in August in Kress Building

Organizers behind the Urban Garden Montessori School said Tuesday that it will begin classes in August in temporary space on the first floor of the Kress Building at 610 Main Street in Little Rock.

"We’ve been looking for the perfect downtown location for the school, and we could not be more excited about the Kress Building," Chris Moses, president of the school’s board of directors, said. Moses is also president of Moses Tucker Real Estate of Little Rock.  

Vera Chenault, who is head of the school, said Urban Garden is leasing the first floor of the building from owner Prachi Investment Inc. of Little Rock.

"We are leasing the first floor this year," Chenault told Arkansas Business in an e-mail. "We may expand into the upper floor and basement next year, but have not yet made final plans."

Constructions crews will spend the summer retrofitting the building’s interior. Chenault said classes for the school’s first students, pre-K through the 4th grade, will begin Aug. 18. She expects to have 45 students enrolled this fall.

Urban Garden is raising about $33,000 to fund the renovation of the Kress space and cover other start-up costs. The operation of the school is funded through tuition and fees, Chenault said.

In all, the school will take up 10,320 square feet in the historic building, once home to a five-and-dime store operated by S.H. Kress & Co. The two-story, 20,680-SF building was built in 1943.

Chenault said the school is also leasing parking lot space at the corner of 6th an Main streets from Best Parking to use as a playground and school garden.

Chenault announced plans for the Urban Garden Montessori School earlier this year but didn’t yet have space for the school. Ultimately, Urban Garden wants to enroll students in pre-K through the 12th grade. The school is seeking accreditation through the American Montessori Society, which will take about two years.

While the school now has its sights set on the Kress Building, Chenault has a grander vision for the Urban Garden’s permanent space, which will need to be about 40,000-SF.

"We are looking at several historic properties downtown to rehab, including the warehouse on Garland Street," she said. "Another option is building a facility, and we are working with Mary Ann Schicketanz, a world-renowned architect, on the most environmentally responsible option to create a forward-thinking, beautiful campus that will be an architectural asset to downtown — whether that is saving a historic gem or creating something new." 

Chenault said the timeline for the permanent space is about three years, depending on whether the school builds or uses existing space. 

Meanwhile, Urban Garden students will have opportunities to explore the performing arts in partnership with The Rep, Ballet Arkansas and the Arkansas Symphony Orchestra. All three organizations will have a presence on Main Street by late summer.

"We’ve always planned to have strong arts curriculum," Chenault said. "Being a part of the emerging creative corridor means our students will be able to take advantage of all the area has to offer."