One of the specialty schools approved by voters last year finally has a place to live. The other is still homeless.
Fort Worth school board members voted 7-2 late Tuesday to open the STEM Academy on site of the former Leonard Sixth Grade Center, then voted 6-3 to postpone a decision to place the future Visual and Performing Arts school on district-owned land near Farrington Field.
Voting in favor of Judy Needham’s motion to select Leonard Sixth Grade center were trustees Ann Sutherland, Tobi Jackson, Ashley Paz, Matthew Avila, Cinto Ramos and Norman Robbins. Voting against were trustees T.A. Sims and Christene Moss.
“We’ve just got to do a balancing act and try to do our best,” Needham said.
Moss said she wanted the STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) Academy on the east side of the district.
“I would suggest that you would look at Dunbar High School,” Moss said.
Board member T.A. Sims said he favored putting the academy at I.M. Terrell Elementary School.
“It’s in a great location,” Sims said. “I think that school would work perfectly. Is there any way to take that back to staff to give I.M. Terrell consideration? That is what I would recommend.”
But neither Dunbar nor I.M. Terrell was among the options on the table at Tuesday’s board meeting, which ended near 11 p.m.
‘Time is money’
Interim Superintendent Pat Linares recommended that the board approve the former Leonard Sixth Grade Center, 4921 Benbrook Highway, as the site for the STEM Academy. The building, more than 65,000 square feet, houses the Middle Level Learning Center, an alternative school that enrolls about 25 students. Linares based her decision on a staff recommendation that notes the site’s benefits, including a gymnasium, lots of classrooms and space for outdoor sports and physical activities.
The other option for the STEM Academy had been Metro Opportunity High School, another district alternative school. The school is centrally located at 2720 Cullen St. enrolls more than 40 students, said principal Gerald Magin. The building is more than 74,000 square feet.
After heated discussions, board President Norman Robbins urged his colleagues to stick to Linares’ recommendation for STEM.
“Time is money. We’ve already cost this project money by messing around with it for two or three months,” Robbins said.
After the split vote on the STEM Academy’s location, trustees disputed the location of the district’s Visual and Performing Arts School.
Linares’ recommendation was that the specialty school for the arts be located in a district-owned parcel near Farrington Field.
Voting to postpone a decision until a December board meeting were Avila, Sutherland, Jackson, Needham, Sims and Moss. The six trustees directed staff to conduct research to determine whether the district-owned property could be sold to benefit the district’s bottom line. Staff also would be looking at other options, trustees said.
Voting against the postponement were Ramos, Paz and Robbins. The three board members said they were ready to vote in favor of Linares’ recommendation.
Jackson said she made the motion to postpone a vote until staff had more time to research real estate values and other options.
“I’ll be glad to explain it,” Jackson said. “It would be irresponsible for us to give up property such as Farrington for a school without fully understanding and vetting what the value is of that property and if there’s a potential revenue stream for the district for decades to come.”
Paz strongly disagreed, saying: “It is very disheartening to hear that motion being made.”
“Putting this school in the Cultural District at Farrington Field where these students have access to the finest arts … it is the best location in my opinion and in the opinion of almost every single constituent I have spoken to,” Paz said.
Other visual arts academy options include: Wilkerson Greines Athletic Complex, 5201 C.A. Roberson Street, 107 acres; Cesar Chavez Primary, 3701 Deen Road, 42 acres; Lowery Road Elementary, 7600 Lowery Road, 24.4 acres; Polytechnic High School 1300 Conner, 23.5 acres, alternate site analysis shows. At a Nov. 5 workshop, Avila urged board members to stick with the plan for Farrington.
The campus is expected to open in fall 2017.
The STEM Academy and the Visual and Performing Arts Center comprised a total of $73.3 million as part of Proposition 2, which was passed by voters in 2013.