Casa Laxmi Foundation to Build K-12 International Boarding School in Bay County

The Bay EDA announced “Project Royal” – an international K-12 boarding school coming with a $117 million investment in the county and 300 new jobs. The school will be built by the Casa Laxmi Foundation. They’re set to start building the campus this year on 260 acres on Fanning Bayou in northern Bay County.

A Canada-based charitable foundation plans to open an international boarding school in Bay County that will create 300 jobs and invest $117 million into the area, economic developers announced on Wednesday.

The Casa Laxmi Foundation, an international nonprofit that focuses on educational development, is set to start building the K-12 campus this year on 260 acres of land near Fanning Bayou in North Bay. Heralded by organizers as one of the first of its kind, the school will partner with 30 universities to offer a diverse curriculum to students, half of which will come from wealthy families and the other from impoverished communities around the world. It’s a project that will bring economic development to the area but also international exposure that could spur future investments, local officials say.

“We’re building the most unique school in the world,” said Sonal Thomas, a member of the foundation’s governing council and one of the heads of the school project. “We want to put both ends of the economic spectrum in the school and develop the leaders of tomorrow.”

The Bay Economic Development Alliance announced the project during its Wednesday meeting. The alliance has been working on the project with the foundation for a year.

“This puts us on the international map, and what a great time to have an announcement like this after a devastating hurricane,” said Becca Hardin, president of the EDA

Hardin said besides job creation, the school could stimulate the economy by attracting visitors from around the world to visit, stay in hotels, eat at restaurants and in the case of some parents, buy second homes to live closer to their children.

“And it’s creating international exposure to hopefully bring more economic opportunities here,” Hardin said.

The foundation plans to open the school in phases, starting in 2021 with grades six through eight. After that, the school would add two grades a year until it’s finished in 2026 with a cap of 300 students.

So far, the school doesn’t have a name. Thomas said the campus would eventually share the name of whatever established boarding school the foundation will partner with, be it one in the European Union or another part of the world.

Thomas said tuition would be steep for half the student body — between $100,000 and $150,000 per student — but that cost would help pay for the low-income students to attend for free.

“Many people would call this a social experiment, but that’s not how we view it if you look at the amount of research that’s gone into gradual integration,” Thomas said. “That’s why we’re partnering with universities … to teach respect, empathy, and compassion.”

Students who attend will have access to an extensive curriculum and athletics, mainly watersports like sailing and diving at the campus’ nearby waterfront — the top reason the county was picked for the project.

Thomas said most higher-level boarding schools offer sports like mountain-climbing and skiing.

“There’s nothing of that quality on the other side of the world,” Thomas said of water sports.

Thomas said the waterfront choice was also key to teach students about water ecology.

To help shape the curriculum, the foundation has partnered with 30 universities, such as Yale University and New York University.

“Our focus will be on creating a greater human being, not just great academic students,” Thomas said. “A fundamental building block is teaching respect, both of self and of others.”

To reach those goals, for instance, Yale has a center for emotional intelligence that will help design a program for boarding school students, Thomas said. Another partner, the University of Guelph in Canada, will help the school develop an organic farming program to teach the importance of protecting Earth’s resources, she said.

But the school and its programs won’t be relegated to just the students. The foundation wants to open services to the community and other schools.

For example, the school plans to have summer programs for its students and will open those up for free to some students in the community, Thomas said. The school will also have regular teacher professional development programs, organized by its partner universities, that it will offer to local teachers too. Local schools will also have the opportunity to schedule field trips to the school’s planned expedition center to participate in watersports and other educational opportunities, Thomas said.

Tommy Hamm, Bay County commissioner, said in a prepared statement that the county will benefit from the school.

“The project is important now more than ever, as it represents significant job creation and capital investment for our community during this period of rebuilding after Hurricane Michael,” Hamm said.

– Published by Newsherald