When STEAM Academy opened in 2013, the science, technology, engineering, arts and mathematics school was conceived as a partnership between the University of Kentucky and Fayette County Public Schools.
District officials immediately started working to find a new site more appropriate than the former Johnson Elementary School on East Sixth Street that was built in 1939.
On Wednesday, some parents of STEAM Academy students expressed concern that progress in both areas isn’t occurring as quickly as it should. They spoke at a meeting of the local planning committee charged with prioritizing construction of school district buildings for the next four years.
The district needs to “define and solidify” STEAM Academy’s relationship with UK, said parent David Adkins, who is director of the Council of State Governments in Lexington.
“For the parents who have entrusted their child to this program on the promise of progress,” the lack of progress was troubling, he said.
Tina Stevenson, STEAM Academy’s director, told the Herald-Leader on Thursday that the school district and UK officials are working on an agreement that would allow students to enroll at UK in the spring to take dual-enrollment courses.
Currently, STEAM students can take a class through Morehead State University for dual high school and college credit.
Bluegrass Community and Technical College instructors are teaching two classes — logic and communications — at the school, and students are taking dual credit courses with that school, she said.
STEAM has other partnerships with UK, Stevenson said, including student internships with professors and researchers, and at the hospital. The academy also is working with the College of Education, she said.
From a building standpoint, “this district should move with all haste to place this as a priority on the facilities plan and to actually take the steps to make that priority a reality,” Adkins said.
Students at STEAM will be the “entrepreneurs of tomorrow,” he said, and “will embrace how technology shapes our world. The potential of this place cannot be lost by having a facility that does not reflect that potential.”
Adkins said the school has a lot going for it, including a strong curriculum and staff.
Myron Thompson, the district’s senior director of operations and support, said district officials are searching for just the right spot for the new academy, but they expect the school to remain in the old building for at least three to four years.
He said he had “every confidence” that a new building will be a priority in the new district facilities plan, which the Kentucky Board of Education will be asked to approve in 2017.
The current building is “an older elementary school built almost 80 years ago. With this being a technology-driven school, it’s not suitable to address all the things that we want to do,” Thompson said.
Adkins’ wife, Lisa Adkins, president and CEO of the nonprofit Blue Grass Community Foundation, said “the exterior of the building is a real issue” and described boarded-up windows.
She said if the building was in Lexington’s affluent Chevy Chase neighborhood instead of East Sixth Street, which includes low-income residents, “it would never be allowed to face the community looking like this.”
“I think it’s disrespectful to the neighborhood; I think it’s disrespectful to the staff and students that are in the building every day,” she said.
Stevenson said she is working to obtain banners for the front of the building and is working with local artists to paint murals.
Students will work on some beautification efforts, she said. Also, some renovation is occurring inside the building to make it more comfortable until a new building or site is found.
“It’s appropriate that we do look at beautification since we are going to be here” a minimum of three to four more years, Thompson said.
Luke Bradley, a parent of one STEAM student and a mentor for another student in a molecular research lab at UK, where he is a professor, encouraged district officials to place the school at UK.
That had been the hope of UK and Fayette County school officials when they announced in January 2015 that it would be on UK’s campus, with UK providing the site and the district responsible for construction. By December, however, district officials said the district wouldn’t build on the planned UK site because it didn’t meet state environmental safety standards.
Thompson said the district is searching for a new home for the school, but “we are not looking at anything on campus right now.”
“We’re looking at multiple commercial options,” he said.