North Cross and Roanoke Catholic schools are working with local developer Lucas Thornton to open an international boarding school in the former Boxley Building in downtown Roanoke.
The dorms will be marketed primarily to international students in grades 9 through 12, and representatives from both schools said they see the partnership as a way to expand their footprint overseas and meet increasing demand from families who want their children to have an American educational experience.
Opening a boarding school in the historic office building at 416 South Jefferson St. wasn’t even an idea when Thornton and his silent partners purchased the eight-story structure last year, he said. It came up as a possibility after Thornton realized the property could be used to help the two schools expand their growing international student populations.
“This is a beautiful building right in the center of our downtown,” Thornton said. “Our hope and our belief is that we will create a better opportunity for both schools to really attract new and better students. It’s just one more tool or asset that they have at their disposal as they go out and represent themselves.”
Wilson International, the boarding school, has signed a contract with North Cross and is in the process of negotiating with Roanoke Catholic, Thornton said.
The boarding school will have room for up to 48 students who will live in three-person suites on the first three floors of the building. Wilson will hire an executive director, a student life director, individual floor leaders, a chef and security.
Twenty-five units priced between $800 and $1,000 a month will fill the rest of the building, Thornton said. There’s a separate entrance for students and residents.
Student costs are still being worked out, Thornton said, but he expects it to be less than similar boarding programs elsewhere in Virginia and likely will fall in the range of $35,000 to $45,000 for tuition, room and board. The cost of tuition will go to each school.
High school tuition at North Cross this year ranges from $3,900 to $18,140 annually depending on a family’s ability to pay. Roanoke Catholic charges non-parishioner high school students between $9,510 and $9,890 annually depending on their grade level.
For the first academic year, Thornton said he anticipates enrolling between 20 and 30 students in the program.
“We will fill that out” over time, he said.
David Lake, North Cross School’s director of admissions, said launching a residential program has been a part of that school’s strategic plan for some time. When Thornton approached the school with a proposal to build dorms in the eight-story building, it was a perfect fit, Lake said.
“There are a lot of things that are happening now because we had some very thoughtful people several years ago,” Lake said. “It’s really nice to see all this stuff happening that you’ve really planned for. It’s all good.”
Both Roanoke Catholic and North Cross have for years enrolled international students who live with host families in the Roanoke Valley. This year, North Cross has 28 international students; Roanoke Catholic has nine.
There were pros and cons to the host family arrangement, Lake said. Depending on the host family, international students could have very different experiences. It also limited how many students the school could host.
A dorm will make international students’ experiences more consistent and will give them “that full 24-7 North Cross experience,” he said.
North Cross also plans to market the boarding school to U.S. parents in Virginia and throughout the southeast. They’ve had families approach them with interest in such an arrangement over the years, Lake said.
Michael Hemphill, a spokesman for Roanoke Catholic, said that the school likely will continue its host program for international students who want that experience. The partnership with Wilson International will let the school accept more students, however.
School leaders predict the downtown location and the dorm amenities will be exciting for students and families. The boarding school is within walking distance of Roanoke Catholic’s campus on North Jefferson Street and a five- to six-mile drive to the North Cross campus on Colonial Avenue.
“Our kids are going to pinch themselves with what they’re going to have here,” Lake said.
Thornton said he’s excited about the diversity students will bring to downtown Roanoke. Jaime Clark, a spokeswoman for Downtown Roanoke Inc., said in an email her group is also excited to welcome the students.
“This is certainly great news for downtown Roanoke,” Clark wrote. “It adds a new demographic to downtown that is unique and may present new opportunities as we determine more what these students needs are. It’s wonderful they chose this location and we’re always excited to gain new residents who will shop, dine, and enjoy everything downtown offers.”
International demand for American education programs has grown in recent years. About 2,000 international students were enrolled in secondary programs in Virginia last fall.
Part of the appeal are lower student to teacher ratios, Hemphill said.
“You’re able to get more personalized interaction between students and teachers,” he said.
There’s also been demand for American-style education programs overseas. North Cross opened a campus in Shanghai in 2015, teaching about 50 students using North Cross curriculum. This year, the program has grown to 150 students, North Cross Headmaster Chris Proctor said.
Thornton said he can’t wait to see how the two schools’ programs grow.
“It’s definitely our desire and intent to make this program equivalent to the best boarding schools in the country, and we think we can do that,” he said.