Versailles Rd. neighbors speaking out about planned new school

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Fayette school district officials said neighbors want to save this silo on the property at 2160 Versailles Road where the Rise STEM Academy for Girls will be built.

Fayette school district officials said neighbors want to save this silo on the property at 2160 Versailles Road where the Rise STEM Academy for Girls will be built.

Neighbors around the new Rise STEM Academy for Girls are weighing in with concerns on how the proposed $57.8 million school could impact the surrounding community.

Some parents have been asking for a new building, saying the current space for Rise, which opened in 2020 at the old Linlee Elementary School on Spurr Road, was inadequate.

Documents for the Jan. 8 school board meeting said the tentative opening is February 2027. The new school will be located at 2160 Versailles Road

Fayette County Public Schools launched the Rise STEM Academy for Girls in 2020-21 because district leaders wanted to support girls in science, technology, engineering, and math in their formative years so they would embrace those career pathways. The magnet school initially welcomed up to 150 students in grades K-2 and will add a level every year through eighth grade, the district website said.

Neighbor Paula Singer said she’d like to see FCPS have public meetings about the project to allow residents to ask questions on what to expect.

“The development of this formerly quiet single family residential oasis of historic significance into a STEM Academy has broad implications for the Versailles Road Corridor, its businesses, residents and neighborhoods that intersect with the corridor,” said Singer.

Former Lexington-Fayette Urban County Council Member Peggy Henson, who used to represent the area, said many people have worked tirelessly to bring attention to the needs of the entire corridor.

There are several neighborhoods along Mason Headley and the Versailles Road Corridor that could be impacted by the project, said Henson.

“Fayette County Public Schools should have a meeting with the area residents, organizations and businesses where we can view the project plans and ask questions,” said Henson. “My specific concerns are with traffic flow and the appearance of the development on Mason Headley and Versailles Road.”

“FCPS does a good job in our city with improving the image of an area where schools are located,” she said.

Dia Davidson-Smith, a spokesperson for the Fayette school district, said FCPS officials have been in previous contact with the neighbors who have property interests that border the property line with the construction site.

“FCPS plans to meet with them about the current plans and if necessary, expand this discussion to include a broader group of interested parties,” she said.

“It is important to note, prior to the purchase of this parcel of land, FCPS had to coordinate with teams from LFUCG Traffic Engineering, as well as the state Transportation Cabinet, to assure that safety and adequacy of the roadway were addressed,” she said.

Davidson-Smith said any concerns regarding the roads and lights would need to be taken up with those agencies.

Project plans for school building, grounds

The new two-story Rise Stem Academy for Girls will be built on a 37-acre “beautiful site with rolling hills, wooded areas, and fence row trees,” documents from architect firm RossTarrant in the January 8 meeting agenda said.

Becky Smith Durman lives down the street from the site and is a parent of children who will attend the school.

“The new school looks amazing to me, they are incorporating tons of green space and have a great mission,” said Durman. “I think having such a great program in the neighborhood will be fantastic and looking forward to being able to visit the new facility and see what they have done with the property.”

The 112,155 square foot building would serve 900 students in K-8 grades.

The program will be focused on project-based learning, flexibility and multiple spaces for teaching, learning, collaboration.

The school building plans include classroom wings with resource rooms, administrative offices, restrooms and small group learning spaces.

A larger breakout classroom will serve each grade, with direct access to outdoors, the architect documents said.

The first floor includes space for physical education, a cafeteria and kitchen, and music. A media center, the 6-8 grade classrooms and elective classrooms. will be on the second floor.

There is existing access to the site from Versailles Road to the north, a document from architect firm RossTarrant said.

“The existing access road to the site will remain in the same location but will be modified to accommodate two-way bus traffic. An additional access road will be added for faculty, staff, and parent circulation from Mason Headley Road, the document said.

The access road will be a one-way road with the entrance being across the street from Cardinal Hill Rehabilitation Hospital and the exit is located southward toward Duntreath exiting onto Mason Headley.

The back side of the building includes a large playground with swings and two play structures will be connected to the building with paved walks to several exits, the document said.

The center between the two wings will be used for outdoor classroom and demonstration space along with garden space and places for some exterior science related projects.

District officials said architects have met with teachers to get ideas.

Fayette Schools Chief Operating Officer Myron Thompson said at the January 8 school board meeting that a house is being removed from the property but he told board member Amanda Ferguson neighbors want to keep the silo on the property and district staff will bring information about that back to the board.

Thompson said the land is a little more than 37 acres. The school will take up much of that but he said there is room for additional structures at a later date.

The district is working to protect trees and woodlands on the property, officials said.

Neighbor concerns

Thompson said district officials have met with neighbors who are concerned about preserving green space.

Singer said last week school district officials had not reached out to her at that time.

“My only concern at this time is the lack of information,” she said.

“I think the school could have a positive impact on the Versailles Road corridor and adjoining neighborhoods if our city officials will take a holistic approach to this opportunity,” said Singer.

Versailles Road Corridor enhancements for slowing vehicular traffic and enhancing pedestrian safety need to become a priority, Singer said.

Singer said now is the time to implement the recommendations of the 2016 Oxford Circle Redevelopment Feasibility Study and realign Mason Headley-Oxford Circle to create better context for future retail development, and remove visual and physical barriers on Versailles Road.

“If we can get an open dialogue with FCPS and LFUCG, I think we can make much needed and long awaited improvements to our gateway corridor,” said Singer. “But we cannot take a piecemeal approach as the city is wont to do.”

In response, Urban County Government spokesperson Susan Straub said “the City has already started working on the Versailles Road sidewalks. We’re always willing to work with our schools and the community.”

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Staff writer Valarie Honeycutt Spears covers K-12 education, social issues and other topics. She is a Lexington native with southeastern Kentucky roots.

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