Fayette schools to explore possibility of K-12 arts school in downtown Lexington

The Fayette County school board wants to explore the possible expansion of its arts education efforts, possibly with a new K-12 arts school in downtown Lexington.

Superintendent Tom Shelton said that construction of a new arts school is at least three years away, however, and that much work would be necessary to make it a reality.

Shelton noted Tuesday that the school district now has no plan and no site for such a facility and would have to secure the state Department of Education's approval before building it. At this point, things are only in the talking stage, he said.

Mayor Jim Gray said he hopes an arts school can be part of a proposed downtown arts district, and a recently unveiled master plan calls for a performing arts school at the High Street parking lot across from Rupp Arena. Fayette County Schools officials have discussed another location somewhere near the Lexington Opera House, where the School for the Creative and Performing Arts now does its stage productions, Shelton said.

Fayette school board members approved a resolution Monday directing staffers to explore "options and opportunities" for expanding the School for the Creative and Performing Arts program "to include a new facility and new student education programs subject to the approval of the Kentucky Department of Education."

According to Shelton, the intent would be to allow many more Fayette County students to participate in arts education and expand the courses that would be available.

Fayette's current creative and performing arts program includes grades 4-8, housed at SCAPA Bluegrass, plus grades 9-12, housed at Lafayette High School.

Over the past three years, applications for fourth grade at SCAPA have averaged 198 per year, according to the school district. SCAPA is able to accept only 54 new fourth-graders each year because of facilities limitations.

Total arts-program applications for fourth through 12th grades last year reached 564, the school district says.

According to Shelton, Fayette Schools officials began talking about arts possibilities after visiting Cincinnati's downtown School for the Creative and Performing Arts in November.

"Some of the things we've talked about is that right now, we're fourth through 12th grade, but what if we went to K-12?" Shelton said. "What if we included the technical aspects of performing arts: sound, lighting, stage design? What would all that look like?"

With the school board's approval in hand, discussions can go on and expand, he said.

Before a downtown arts school could be built, it would have to be placed in the Fayette Schools' facilities plan, then win approval from the state education department. The school district will start work on its new facilities plan soon, but it's already facing the need for a new elementary school east of Interstate 75. A sixth high school also might be needed to meet enrollment growth in the county.

That means a new arts high school is years away, even if planning goes smoothly.

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