Education

Fayette schools purchases Imani Baptist as part of giving STEAM Academy a permanent home

Imani Baptist Church and Family Life Center was sold for $10.5 million to its lender, Central Bank, at a Fayette Master Commissioner’s sale in October. Fayette schools will now buy the site for $10.6 million.
Imani Baptist Church and Family Life Center was sold for $10.5 million to its lender, Central Bank, at a Fayette Master Commissioner’s sale in October. Fayette schools will now buy the site for $10.6 million. palcala@herald-leader.com

The Fayette County Board of Education voted unanimously Monday to buy and lease property for a new permanent home for the STEAM Academy.

STEAM Academy, which stands for Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Mathematics, opened in 2013 with 148 students in the old Johnson Elementary School building on East Sixth Street in downtown Lexington. It emphasizes dual credit opportunities and internships to give students a head start on college.

The school board took two actions Monday:

▪  Purchased from a holding company the former Imani Baptist Church for $10.6 million. The church is a 113,000 square-foot building on 22 acres of land at 1555 Georgetown Road.

Imani Baptist Church and Family Life Center was sold for $10.5 million to its lender, Central Bank, at a Fayette Master Commissioner’s sale in October. Imani and Central Bank had been at odds legally for several years, the Herald-Leader reported, with Imani insisting that it had been the victim of a poorly structured deal. Central Bank had said in court filings that it was trying to put an end to its effort to help the church work through the financial issues that put it in default.

▪  Empowered the superintendent to negotiate a lease agreement with Bluegrass Community and Technical College for 50,000 square feet of its Cooper Drive property as BCTC operations are moving to its new campus on Newtown Pike.

Beginning with the 2018-19 school year, students in grades 10 through 12 will be housed in BCTC’s Cooper Drive building, which is located on the University of Kentucky’s campus in Lexington. Until the 1555 Georgetown Road building can be renovated, ninth graders at STEAM Academy will remain in their current facility on East Sixth. After the Imani building is renovated, 9th graders in STEAM will move there.

STEAM currently has 327 students, district spokeswoman Lisa Deffendall said Tuesday.

“This has been a priority for our school district for years,” said Fayette County Public Schools Superintendent Manny Caulk. “Even before I was hired, our staff has been working diligently behind the scenes, investigating leads and visiting potential sites. I’m thrilled to tell our students, staff and families at STEAM Academy that they will be in their new facilities soon.”

Caulk said the school board’s action “enhances our existing Opportunity Middle College program at the Cooper Drive location and opens the door to future innovation such as an early college model in which students are dually enrolled in the school district and BCTC.”

Deffendall said the BCTC building is not big enough to accommodate all STEAM students, which is why 9th graders will be in a separate building. She said if additional space becomes available at BCTC, the district will consider locating 9th graders there along with the other grades.

Bluegrass Community and Technical College President/CEO Augusta A. Julian said that “bringing the STEAM Academy students onto the Cooper Campus addresses students’ individual needs and gives them extra support to be successful. We appreciate working with the FCPS administration and board and know that this kind of partnership will support students to move more quickly and successfully into college.”

Caulk said that the acquisition of the building at 1555 Georgetown Road will meet several needs for the district. The location will also house the district’s re-engagement and dropout prevention academy, which is still in the planning stages. District officials said Monday night they did not anticipate the STEAM ninth graders moving in time for the 2018-19 school year.

“In the long-term, we also envision using this space as an innovation incubator where we can pilot high quality programs and schools of choice for students who live in the area,” Caulk said. “For example, I could see us developing a K-8 pre-STEAM Academy to offer an increase in choice and expanded opportunities for families in that area.”

The school district has had problems in finding a permanent home for the STEAM Academy.

A plan to move to the University of Kentucky campus in 2015 fell through prior to Caulk being hired.

The school board voted in 2013 to buy a former Winn-Dixie site to house the program, but the purchase was not completed.

STEAM Academy principal Tina Stevenson praised the board’s action Monday in a district news release.

“We are very excited to have a permanent location for STEAM Academy. The location of both campuses will provide STEAM students and staff with optimal access to both Bluegrass Community and Technical College and the University of Kentucky,” she said. “We look forward to strengthening our partnerships with both institutions.”

Artist Winfred Rembert made a surprise visit to STEAM Academy on Friday to meet students who viewed his documentary "All Me," directed by Vivian Ducat, and as part of a gallery of his artwork opening at Transylvania University.

Valarie Honeycutt Spears: 859-231-3409, @vhspears

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