With a ceremonial groundbreaking Wednesday, Clayton-Bradley Academy celebrated the upcoming construction of the final education building on its campus, which will raise capacity at the private school to 570 students.

More than 300 students lined up on the outline of the “Student Union Educational Building” for the speeches and to be filmed by a drone flying overhead.

Executive Director Pat Bradley noted that three of the 10 members of the Class of 2020 were among the first 77 students when when the school opened in 2013.

Bradley thanked parents for “taking a step of faith with us,” and enrolling their children when the campus was just a grassy hill. “I think that was pretty courageous of them,” she said.

She credited Keven Clayton, CEO of Clayton and a board member for the school, for turning her dreams for an innovative school into a reality.

“What we’re doing here is really changing education,” Clayton said, calling the project-based approach at the center of the school a “smarter, more relevant way to learn.”

Just like the fast growth at Clayton Homes, he said, it reminds him of the need to “#stayflexible” through what can be challenging change.

“The next five or six or seven years is probably going to be more exciting,” he said.

Mary Bogert, vice chair of the school’s Innovative Education Partnerships board, said the school was designed to grow the pipeline of engineers, scientists and others in STEM-related disciplines (science, technology, engineering and math) “needed to support the growing talent demand for Innovation Valley.”

Clayton-Bradley Academy is “the fastest growing independent school in the state of Tennessee,” she said.

Three new cottage-style classroom buildings already have been added to the upper campus, with plans for middle school students to move in during fall break. That will bring grades six through 12 together in that part of the campus.

By the beginning of the 2020-21 school year the school hopes to complete the 22,498-square-foot building that will house advanced science labs, a maker space, a robotics lab, a cafe and collaborative learning spaces.

“I’m just so excited to have a bigger space to make more things,” said 11th grader Izzy Miya, citing the 3D printers and wood carving machine now located in a classroom.

She’s also looking forward to the new cafe, which will look very different than a traditional cafeteria. The upper school students already have access to microwaves, a panini maker and a coffee cart, and the school is beginning to invite food trucks to campus. Right now finding space to sit together during lunch is a challenge.

“They’re going to have opportunities to do whatever they want to do for lunch,” Bradley said.

Clayton said the total project, including the cottages and new building, is “in the $10 million range.”

Clayton Homes builds the modular classroom cottages for the school, and Johnson Architecture designed the student union, to be built by Joseph Construction.

Senior Max Fields remembers standing in the field of foot-high grass on the campus just months before the school opened and wondering how there would be buildings in time. His sixth grade class grew from just four boys to 10 students the following year.

“I knew so many people were hearing about this and interested enough to really put faith in it and explore what it’s all about,” he said.

The school has helped Max figure out what he is passionate about, cinematography.

“The thing I love about this school is the community aspect,” Izzy said. “You’re free to be yourself, and they push you to be yourself.”

Although this is the last education building planned for the campus on Alcoa Trail, Clayton said in an interview after the ceremony, “It would be a wonderful dream if we could also build a fine arts center.”

A family gathering center already houses music and other programs. “It really would be nice in the future to have a true fine arts center for the school,” he said, possibly after Clayton-Bradley reaches capacity, estimated to be in five years or earlier.

He noted parents already have been paying tuition of about $10,000 for those 300 students, hoping the administration would finish the high school. “That is the definition of faith,” Clayton said.

“Our goal is not to suggest this is the best school in the region,” he said. “This area is known for great educational schools. We want to be another one of those, because every child is different, and every great, thriving community needs multiple school choices.”

Amy Beth earned her degree from West Virginia. She joined The Daily Times in 2016 on the education beat covering Alcoa, Maryville and Blount County school systems.

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