Plan to move Lexington's STEAM Academy 'taking longer than expected'

jwarren@herald-leader.comNovember 4, 2013 

Fayette County Public Schools' plan to move its new STEAM Academy to a permanent home apparently could be pushed back one year.

Superintendent Tom Shelton said Monday that the planned purchase of the former Winn-Dixie building in the shopping plaza at South Broadway and Virginia Avenue is taking longer than expected.

As a result, moving the academy in time for the 2014-15 school year "probably" won't be possible, Shelton said.

"It depends on how much renovation we'd have to do on the building, and until we have ownership of the building it's hard to tell," he said. "So, we're tentatively thinking we won't be in there this coming fall, and that it will be the fall of 2015."

Shelton insisted that was no indication the purchase might not go through.

But it apparently means the STEAM Academy could have to remain in its temporary quarters at the old Johnson Elementary School through this school year and all of next year.

The STEAM Academy (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Math) opened at Johnson in August. The academy is a joint effort of the school district and the University of Kentucky, featuring innovative new teaching techniques. STEAM students also are allowed to take courses at UK.

One hundred and fifty ninth-graders are attending the academy this year. Officials expect to add 150 more each year, ultimately raising enrollment to 600 students in ninth through 12th grades.

The plan to move the academy to the former Winn-Dixie building has been controversial since Shelton announced during the summer the district's intention to buy the empty building from the Kentucky Teachers Retirement System.

Online critics contended that the building wasn't suitable for a school and that Shelton had a conflict of interest in the purchase because he is chairman of the KTRS board of trustees.

Shelton had said he planned to submit the purchase to the Fayette school board for approval in July, but that hasn't happened yet.

"We're working through some concerns on access to the property with our buses, parking and that kind of thing with some deed restrictions," Shelton said Monday. "We're talking with the property owner and the adjoining owners because there's some shared space with driveways and parking spots."

Shelton noted that the Winn-Dixie building was surrounded by several other commercial operations.

"There is concern that with us ultimately having 600 students there we might kind of take over all of the common space," he said. "We're trying to make sure we deal with the concerns of the other property owners, and make sure of what the deed allows and doesn't allow."

Switching STEAM to some other location wouldn't be easy.

School district officials say there is no suitable building available on the UK campus, and it would be legally complicated for the district to build something on campus. Buying property somewhere else and erecting a new building would take years, they say.

"If for some reason it didn't work out, we'd have to come up with another plan," Shelton said. "But at this point we see no reason why it won't."

Jim Warren: (859) 231-3255.

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