One of the nation’s best schools takes a deep dive in Indianapolis – breathing life into historic Naval structure February 5, 2019

When students walk into school, they probably don’t expect to see an officer’s lounge or a trainer room that resembles the inside of submarine. But that’s exactly what the Riverside High School Argonauts experience every day.

Located in the former Heslar Naval Armory on Indianapolis’s northwest side, Riverside High School is the second school in the Indianapolis Classical Schools (ICS) network. ICS determined to add the school because of high demand at its first school, Herron High School, which had a waiting list of close to 400 students. Herron High School is one of the nation’s highest-performing schools.

During its first year, Riverside operated out of a temporary location in a church with 97 students, while preparations were being made to relocate to the former naval armory. IFF provided $1.4 million in financing to help bring the project to fruition.

“Supporting the expansion of the ICS network to a second location was a no-brainer for us,” said Jenny Boyts, IFF’s Director of School Services. “School operators that demonstrate the ability to bring extremely high-quality education to communities that need it – that’s what a lot of folks in Indianapolis have been working very hard to do in a planful, thoughtful way.”

From armory to school

During World War II, military officials planned global campaigns from the Heslar Naval Armory, drawing little attention due to its inland location. The original purpose of the 1938 structure was to train sailors – which is why it already had classrooms.

Spaces that served a specific function during times of war are now taking on new life. During the armory days, the gymnasium also functioned as a drill deck and radio training room. Now, the gymnasium is home to the Argonauts’ basketball team and is also used as a physical education classroom and assembly hall. The officer’s lounge, overlooking the river, is now a space where students eat lunch. But there were still some unique architectural elements that didn’t exactly fit the high school model.

Take the submarine replica – during its armory days, that room would be flooded to test sailors’ ability to stop the flooding. Riverside students don’t have to worry about that particular final exam, but there are plans underway to preserve the space by converting it into a museum.

Historic financing

Many of the historic features in the building were preserved with the help of historic tax credits and other financing. Financing for the $10.5 million project included:

  • $6.1 million loan funded through $1.5 million in Tax Increment Financing
  • $1.5 million grant from Indiana Landmarks
  • $1.4 million capital campaign bridge loan from IFF
  • $1.3 million in Historic Tax Credit equity from Old National Bank
  • New Market Tax Credits equity from Capital One

“You won’t find a lot of CDFIs willing to do capital campaign bridge loans,” said Alexis Dishman, IFF’s Director of Lending for Education. “I think it comes down to our deep understanding of the nonprofit sector, and our ability to get comfortable with and understand the needs of our clients.”

Classic and collaborative education in Riverside

The school’s curriculum is based on a classical liberal arts education model, with an emphasis on art and literature from different cultures.

“I think the classical model is a win for everyone,” said Janet McNeal, President of ICS. “We make the parallel everyday that human nature really doesn’t change. The same troubles people experienced when Homer was writing the Iliad and the Odyssey are the same troubles we are dealing with in our society today.”

ICS’s two schools – Riverside High School and Herron High School – collaborate on various projects, including the students’ theater program and the teacher’s professional development trainings.

“It’s very important to us that we keep the fidelity of our classical curriculum intact,” McNeal said. “It’s on us to make sure we stay true to what our core values are and we think and talk and work on that all the time.”

The Riverside community in Indianapolis embraced ICS opening a second campus in their neighborhood. Riverside High School has community liaisons, and their students also take part in the neighborhood parade every year.

“While Riverside enrolls students from all over city of Indianapolis, they are mindful about serving students living in the neighborhood well,” said IFF’s Boyts.

“IFF is just a great partner for us. What caused my excitement with working with IFF is that they have a passion for our city in very similar ways as Indianapolis Classical Schools,” McNeal said.

Riverside has impacted hundreds of students in just two years of operations. Currently, Riverside has a freshman and sophomore class, and will add a new freshman class every year until they are fully enrolled.

Categories: Stories

Tags: : ,