Official: Building offered for relocation needs repairs
Harding Fine Arts Academy officials have put plans to relocate students on hold, telling Oklahoma City Public Schools they are interested in buying and remaining in the aging building they lease, which could cost between $13 million and $20 million to renovate.
In a Sunday letter to the school's families and friends, board President Susan Gabbard and Superintendent Barry Schmelzenbach said they are working with district officials to "create a solution for the future of our school," adding that the board has "carefully evaluated several facilities."
"With this in mind, the HFAA board has unanimously voted to pursue remaining in our current facility and the possibility of purchasing this historic building," the letter stated. "With ownership of the building, our board is confident we can provide for the very real needs of the Harding Building while maintaining it for its original purpose."
The Oklahoma City School Board voted unanimously Monday night to declare five properties as surplus, including the building at 3333 N Shartel that is occupied by Harding Fine Arts and Harding Charter Preparatory High School. Such a designation means the district does not plan to use the building for regular school use. Should the board vote to sell the property, the district would have to conduct a formal bid process, officials said.
Superintendent Sean McDaniel recommended relocating four charter schools — including Harding Charter Prep and Harding Fine Arts — as part of a board-approved restructuring plan that will close 15 schools and reconfigure or relocate 17 others. McDaniel has said the 96-year-old building is not suitable for students and would cost the district too much to renovate.
McDaniel said the Harding building has been assessed "conservatively" as needing around $13 million of repairs.
Harding Charter Prep, meanwhile, has agreed to occupy soon-to-be-shuttered Oklahoma Centennial Mid-High in the 2019-20 school year.
Principal Steven Stefanick said in a recent Facebook video that it would cost $20 million to renovate the existing building. Stefanick said the school's board couldn't find a "feasible" way to raise enough money for renovations without cutting athletic and art programs.
"Our board, as well as myself, weren't willing to cut any programs we offer at this school because they all matter to our community," he said.
The district has offered to relocate Harding Fine Arts to Putnam Heights Elementary, 1601 NW 36, a school on the closure list.
Schmelzenbach told The Oklahoman on Monday that Putnam Heights does not meet the essential needs of Harding Fine Arts, which serves approximately 380 students in grades nine through twelve. He said the elementary school does not have an auditorium or gymnasium suitable for high school students and lacks science labs, a dance studio, adult plumbing and suitable parking.
"What we have determined is we need a building that can handle our mission-critical programs," he said. "Whether we move or stay there are renovations that need to take place."
McDaniel is expected to meet this week with Schmelzenbach and Harding Fine Arts board members and attorneys to discuss the school's future. Harding Fine Arts sub-leases space from Harding Charter Prep, whose lease expires June 30, records show. It is not clear whether the district would agree to extend the lease.
"We have plans to continue discussions with both schools regarding finalizing arrangements and contingency plans to ensure that both Harding schools will be able to continue to serve our students well," McDaniel said in a statement.
Other properties declared as surplus by the board Monday night include the former Polk Elementary School, 3806 N Prospect. Chief Operating Officer Scott Randall said the building, which houses an alternative program, is in poor condition and would require a "sizeable" investment to renovate.
A sixth property, the former Madison Elementary building, 3101 N Independence, will be returned to the city of Oklahoma City. According to a board resolution, the district "no longer has a need for the property."
Superintendent's contract extended
The Oklahoma City School Board voted Monday night to extend the contract of Superintendent Sean McDaniel through the 2021-22 school year. Seven of eight board members voted to give McDaniel a one-year extension after evaluating his performance behind closed doors. Board member Charles Henry abstained. Board Chairwoman Paula Lewis said McDaniel, who was hired in May, “exceeds expectations every day.” The panel will discuss additional compensation in June.