Trustees split on where to put Fort Worth specialty schools

At today’s board meeting, trustees are expected to debate options for the future location of two showcase schools promised to voters under last year’s referendum.

Under the $490 million bond package, voters approved $40 million for construction of a specialty campus for students in grades 6-12 interested in the visual and performing arts. Another $12.5 million was set aside to support a center for science, technology, engineering and mathematics for students in the same grades.

The community hasn’t voiced strong feelings about the location of either, Trustee Norman Robbins said.

“They approved the concept of having both a STEM Academy and a fine arts/performing arts academy and so that’s what we’re going to do, but that’s as far as the community input has been,’’ Robbins said.

But the board is split on some staff recommendations.

Some, including trustees Matthew Avila and Jacinto Ramos, would like to see the STEM (science, technology, engineering, math) Academy at a central location to prevent early morning and long afternoon bus rides.

Others, including Trustee Tobi Jackson, have said they like the idea of renovating the Leonard Sixth Grade Center, which isn’t centrally located, because the facility has a gym and outdoor facilities for students to engage in physical education classes.

“I want to make sure we’ve done our due diligence on all site selections,” Jackson said on Friday.

Land near Farrington Field appeared for months to be the No. 1 choice for construction of a Visual and Performing Arts Center, because a new building could be constructed on nine acres of the 17-acre tract. Some board members support the location because it is centrally located and near the Cultural District.

“Farrington is the staff choice,” Robbins said, adding that board members don’t have to stick with the staff recommendation.

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.

“Let’s save everyone a bunch of time and stick with the decision that we have unless somebody wants to make a contrary argument,’’ Avila said.

The campus is expected to open in fall 2017.

Meanwhile, Interim Superintendent Pat Linares is recommending 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 is Metro Opportunity High School, another district alternative school, which is centrally located at 2720 Cullen St. but does not offer a gym. The two-story building enrolls more than 40 students. The building is more than 74,000 square feet.

If board members approve the renovation of Metro Opportunity School, the STEM Academy would open in fall 2016, Linares said. If the board approves Leonard Sixth Grade, the STEM Academy could open in fall 2015.

The STEM Academy and the Visual and Performing Arts Center comprised a total of $73.3 million as part of Proposition 2, passed by voters in 2013.

Yamil Berard, 817-390-7705