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Old South Fort Worth fire station gets new life

Jacqueline Phelps is inspired by the students who come to school in a repurposed South Fort Worth fire station.

They are adults from Latin America and Africa who want to perfect their English. Their schoolhouse is more than 100 years old.

“It’s never a bad day when you come here,” Phelps said. “Imagine, every day we come here and they are so grateful.”

Preserving old Fire Station No. 10, 2804 Lipscomb St., has been important to many residents of the neighborhood for years. The two-story red brick building with green garage doors was built in 1910. A sign in the front reads: “City of Fort Worth Landmark.”

Now a community building where the Fort Worth school district offers free adult education classes, it’s an example of what’s called adaptive reuse — using an older existing structure for a new purpose.

“It’s antique,” said Fernando Florez, first vice president of the South Hemphill Heights Neighborhood Association. “It’s been put to good use.”

The City of Fort Worth and the Fort Worth school district have worked together since 2012 to offer programs that benefit working-class families who live in nearby neighborhoods such as South Hemphill Heights and Fairmount. The district offers free English as a Second Language lessons and GED classes for adults.

Last month, the school district purchased the building from the city for $1 and the promise that they would continue serving the community. The City Council approved the sale and gave the district a $400,000 forgivable loan for further refurbishing.

Upcoming improvements will include making sure the building meets ADA requirements, which includes updating restrooms and adding ramps. Early plans also include renovating the second floor to provide language labs, said Clint Bond, spokesman for Fort Worth schools.

The district also plans to consolidate adult education offices in the building, he said.

“We don’t have a time frame yet,” Bond said. “The agreement with the city is if the district fails to provide services, it has to reimburse the grant.”

The bottom floor is now used for three learning areas. One of them is also Phelps’ office.

Phelps said she hopes improvements will create more learning space, improve acoustics and attract more volunteers for the program.

“This building is amazing,” Phelps said. “First of all, it is historical. It’s a good location for the students.”

‘A warm place’

Classes are held Monday through Friday during the school year, said Phelps, who is both teacher and site manager. Students are learning English at different levels — some are beginners, while others are gearing up for the GED and have plans for college.

During the 2012-13 school year, about 67 students took GED and ESL classes at the old fire station, with about 60 in classes now.

Students come from Mexico, Guatemala, Puerto Rico, Sudan and the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

The district plans to offer civics and citizenship classes later this year.

Andres Andrade, who teaches advanced ESL students, said the fire station offers a safe neighborhood place to meet and learn while building a sense of community.

“I want them to feel at home,” Andrade said. “This is a warm place for them.”

Students are glad to hear that the fire station will get some improvements.

Emilia Villegas, 55, is learning English and said the new labs will allow her to train her ears and focus on sounds. She is trying to perfect her English to open doors to more opportunities. She was a secretary in Mexico City and would like to find similar work here.

“I want to find a good job with a good salary,” Villegas said.

Preserving history

Long-time neighborhood leaders who have advocated saving the structure are pleased with the use of the building. The fire station was designed by Sanguinet & Staats and built by Innis-Graham Construction Co for $10,662.30, according to historical records.

“I think it is very important to preserve the history and integrity of the neighborhood,” said Roberta Florez, who has worked with neighbors since the early 1990s to save the building.

For many years, volunteers worked on the building, which was described as a “mess.” At one time neighbors used it as a base for Citizens on Patrol. Florez said the building’s latest use is good for the neighborhood.

“I fell in love with that old fire station the first time I saw it,” she said.

Star-Telegram reporter Caty Hirst contributed to this report.

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