Proposed University of Kentucky site for STEAM Academy shelved

Fayette County Public Schools won’t be constructing a new building for STEAM Academy on the planned University of Kentucky site because it doesn’t meet state environmental safety standards, school officials said Tuesday.

“The news about our facility is disappointing for all of us and we would be dishonest to claim otherwise,” principal Tina Stevenson and Jack Hayes, who oversees STEAM for the district, said in a letter to parents on Tuesday.

But school district and UK officials both said that UK remains committed to finding a location at UK for the STEAM Academy, which stands for science, technology, engineering, arts and mathematics. Conceived as a partnership between UK and Fayette County Public Schools, the program opened in 2013, and is currently housed in the East Sixth Street building that previously was Johnson Elementary School.

The district and UK announced last January that the academy would be moved to UK. UK officials said they would provide a site on campus for STEAM Academy but the school district would construct the academy.

The district hoped to open the new school by 2017. UK had offered the district a site behind Dickey Hall off Scott Street, school officials said in the letter to parents. In March, the school board was asked to approve a $21,800 contract with Endris Engineering to conduct a survey of 12.2 acres on UK's campus.

But the letter sent Tuesday said “we have exhausted the possibilities for making this site work and we must now find a different location. Conversations are ongoing but we do not have a specific timeline for a resolution,” the letter said.

UK spokesman Jay Blanton confirmed UK’s commitment in a statement:

“The University of Kentucky is steadfastly committed to the development of the STEAM Academy and to its partnership with the Fayette County School System. We are committed to finding a location for the Academy’s long-term growth and development. And we are working with the school system to locate property owned by the university to meet the long-term needs of the Academy and the children served.”

The new development is the latest problem that the school district has had in finding a permanent home for the STEAM Academy.

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

School board members filed a lawsuit in Fayette Circuit Court, seeking a declaratory judgment favoring the district's plan to buy the former supermarket site in the shopping plaza at South Broadway and Virginia Avenue. An attorney representing some of the nearby property owners told the Herald-Leader in May 2014 that his clients contended that deed restrictions precluded a school from operating in the space.

Despite the setback announced this week, officials told parents in the letter Tuesday that the STEAM academic program “is as strong as it has ever been and the university will continue to support its development, including the exploration of dual credit opportunities for STEAM students.”’

Blanton confirmed that UK continues “to explore dual credit opportunities for STEAM students.”

“Our plan is to have juniors able to enroll at UK in January as non-degree seeking students able to take dual-enrollment courses,” the letter to parents said

At this point, STEAM students can take an English class through Morehead State University for dual high school and college credit, Stevenson told the Herald-Leader in an interview.

In the meantime, school officials told parents that they are working with Bluegrass Community and Technical College so students can take dual credit courses as soon as this spring.

Meanwhile, Stevenson said there are several examples of the UK and STEAM partnership. She said UK faculty members were “deeply involved” with the staff’s professional development and in other areas at the school. STEAM students have observed UK classes, Stevenson said.

One parent said she was concerned that the building site did not work out.

“I am extremely disappointed to learn that STEAM is back to square one regarding finding a proper location and building a suitable facility,” parent Sharon Mofield-Boswell said in an e-mail. “This is indicative of the lack of true partnership between FCPS and UK. It is also a huge indicator of failed leadership at both UK and FCPS. Our kids deserve the program and the facility they were promised three years ago. The time for change is now.”

Stevenson, in an interview, said that “a building doesn’t define STEAM.”

‘STEAM is a program that allows students to be educated “at anytime and anywhere, ” said Stevenson. “There’s some amazing progress that we’ve made at STEAM Academy.”

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