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story.lead_photo.caption Sonia Gutierrez, founder and chief operating officer of New Design School in Fayetteville, photographs Brian Dodwell of Fayetteville on Thursday during Tech Fest in the Fayetteville Town Center. New Design School operates out of a shared space with Startup Junkie on the square, but school officials hope to move to a permanent location on the first floor of the historic Walker-Stone House. - Photo by Andy Shupe

FAYETTEVILLE -- A small, nonprofit design school hopes to make a big impact downtown by moving into one of the few remaining homes in the city that survived the Civil War.

New Design School, a private career school, offers summer camps, certificate-granting seminars and professional-development workshops to youth and adults. It operates in a shared space on the square with entrepreneurial consultants Startup Junkie.

Walker-Stone House

David Walker, born in Kentucky, arrived in Fayetteville in 1830 and began practicing law. Walker built the two-story, 6,000-square-foot brick house at 207 W. Center St. in 1847. He later sold the house to prominent merchant Stephen K. Stone. A Confederate cannonball crashed through a bedroom wall during the Civil War while the Stone family lived there, but the house remained standing.

Source: Staff report

Established in 2006, the school moved out of the former Roberta Fulbright Library on Dickson Street last summer. Startup Junkie offered to work with the school so it could live rent-free and save money for a new space, school founder Sonia Gutierrez said.

Sharing a space at 1 E. Center St. has meant relying on the kindness of others and working on someone else's schedule at times. The school has aspirations to become accredited and offer a unique variety of academic studies to its students. Its programs have expanded to animation, product design, virtual reality and video game development. Partnerships with local schools have brought design and arts education to students. New Design School also took over the NERDIES program in 2013, which offers nontraditional learning opportunities for children ages 6 to 15 in coding and digital arts, according to its website.

Last year, the Advertising and Promotion Commission bought the historic Walker-Stone House near the square for $750,000 from law partners Hugh Kincaid, David Horne and Bass Trumbo. Commissioners initially talked about moving the office for the Convention and Visitors Bureau, known as Experience Fayetteville, to the house but nixed that plan earlier this year at the recommendation of Executive Director Molly Rawn, who took on her role last summer.

Commissioners opened the door for proposals on what to do with the house but haven't gotten any formal submissions, Rawn said. Fenix Fayetteville hosted a temporary art gallery at the house in April.

New Design School administrators presented commissioners Monday with their idea to rent the first floor as a permanent home. David Kersey, the school's executive director, said he loved the idea of blending the old with the new. Seeing the building reminded him of his days at Savannah College of Art and Design, where older buildings hold some of the country's top-notch design and technology laboratories, he said.

New Design School might have a long road to travel before becoming Savannah College of Art and Design, but administrators have their eyes set on satellite campuses, expanding programming, increasing enrollment and spreading regionally, Kersey said.

"The plan is to scale," he said. "How fast we scale is in the crystal ball."

Tuition, contracts with local schools and the NERDIES program serve as the revenue stream for New Design School. The expansion into other areas such as animation and virtual reality, increasing NERDIES participation and hosting more workshops, events and galleries will put more money into the school's coffers, Kersey said during his presentation.

Nine students are enrolled in the school's summer program with a maximum of 20 who can fit into its space, Gutierrez said. The school's budget this year shows $242,690 in revenue and $124,736 in operating costs.

The commission hired architect Aaron Ruby of Allison + Partners to assess the Walker-Stone House when it was considering moving the Experience Fayetteville office there. Ruby compared the house's electrical capabilities to a typical residence.

The school initially would only need enough electricity to power a projector and chargers for students' laptops, Kersey said.

The last time the house got a renovation was in the 1970s. The renovation was top-notch, although it happened 40 years ago, Ruby said.

The building served as an office for decades and could handle a similar use in the future. Anything beyond that would probably require some additional work, Ruby said.

Rawn said any decisions about a potential renovation would only happen after the commission determines how the Walker-Stone House will be used. The needs from the use would guide the renovation, she said.

Gutierrez said the school hopes to move into the Walker-Stone House in time for the fall semester and would need a decision from the commission by July. Rawn said the decision will be one that best meets the needs of the commission, Experience Fayetteville and the city and might or might not line up with an outside group's timeline.

"The Walker-Stone House is a historical landmark for Fayetteville, so we are not going to rush into a decision into how it's going to be used," Rawn said.

The commission will ultimately decide the future of the house. Alderman Matthew Petty, who serves as the commission's chairman, echoed Rawn's sentiments.

"I don't want to wait unnecessarily, but I am committed to taking as long as we need to in order to make a good decision about how it is used," he said.

The commission gave Rawn its blessing to hash out further details with New Design School and to explore other possibilities and offers. Commissioner Ching Mong said the proposal seemed very fitting for the area with its heavy student demographic. Commissioner Matt Behrend said the school moving into the historic house could become the tip of the iceberg of possibilities for a creativity center downtown.

No matter what happens, everyone involved with the house's future has shown a commitment to maintaining its historic integrity.

Kersey said his parents met at the University of Arkansas and his father played football for the Razorbacks. His deep roots and family ties to the city have prompted him to have respect for its oldest structures, he said. School administrators have thought about coming up with a virtual reality experience to showcase the home's history, for example.

"We've been looking all over Northwest Arkansas for our future home. The potential for it to land right there in that spot obviously has gotten me really excited on a lot of levels," Kersey said. "We want to be in Fayetteville. If it happens in that capacity, that would be just a dream come true for us and we would make the best of it."

NW News on 05/22/2017

Print Headline: Design school eyes historic home

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