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Can Academies buying East Lancaster site in Fort WorthApril 15, 2014
Malcolm Wentworth, chief operating officer of Texans Can Academies, at the schoois' vehicle auction site on East Division Street in Arlington. Vehicle auctions are Can Academies' major fundraising source. Photo by Scott Nishimura
(UPDATE: The deal closed Thursday April 17.)
By Scott Nishimura
Texans Can Academies is buying a prominent piece of East Lancaster Avenue frontage east of downtown, and will open a charter high school in two phases beginning later this year.
Can Academies has the 2.1-acre property - three lots and 37,000 square feet of office and warehouse space at 1316 E. Lancaster in the heart of the city’s homeless district - under contract at $1.1 million and expects to close this week, Malcolm Wentworth, chief operating officer, said in an interview.
It plans to open the first phase in an 8,830-square-foot warehouse on the site in August, in time for the fall session, Wentworth said. Can Academies will convert the remaining 27,000 square feet in time to open it for fall 2015, Wentworth said.
Can Academies is buying the site from Flora Brewer, the largest for-profit property owner on the East Lancaster segment between downtown and U.S. 287. Brewer recently sold her adjacent Parker-Browne commercial building to another businessman, who plans to rehab it for his businesses and leased offices.
Can Academies will move its River Oaks campus into the East Lancaster location, Wentworth said.
It had earlier purchased a site on Alta Mere Drive in west Fort Worth for the River Oaks relocation. But it was stymied when the city and Naval Air Station Joint Reserve Base Fort Worth moved to create a safe zone around the base that excluded uses such as the school’s.
Wentworth said Can Academies’ broker, Eliza Solender of Solender/Hall, found the East Lancaster site.
He said it’s ideal for its location at the center of a several-mile radius where there are numerous high schools with high dropout rates, its location along one of the city’s most heavily trafficked T bus lines, and the good condition of the tilt-wall construction.
“All that and the price,” Wentworth said, adding Can Academies saw significantly higher prices elsewhere in the city.
A large number of Can Academies students ride the T to get to its schools, and the River Oaks location doesn’t have T service, prompting the schools’ search for another site.
Can Academies accepts students who have struggled in other schools, for factors because of learning disability or having their own children.
“We want the kids who have dropped out, or are in the process of dropping out,” Wentworth said.
The schools are tuition-free, open-enrollment schools of choice that follow the Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills curriculum. The schools have one teacher for every 15 students, Wentworth said. Can Academies, which has 11 campuses statewide, including one other in Fort Worth off of Campus Drive, graduated 1,844 seniors last year, Wentworth said. Can Academies, which does most of its fundraising through the auction sales of donated cars, boats and other vehicles, does its sales through a lot on East Division Street in Arlington.
“Nobody can order a kid to come to us,” Wentworth said. “It does not work. The light bulb pops on that they want to do something better. You’ve got somebody who realizes they need to get a high school diploma.”
The first phase of the East Lancaster campus will have up to 240 students divided equally between four-hour morning and afternoon sessions, Wentworth said.
The Texas Education Agency allows four-hour daily sessions. Can Academies structure their days in the four-hour sessions to allow students who work or have children to meet those obligations.
Once the second phase is open, the school will have a maximum total 350 students per session, the same as other Can Academies, Wentworth said.
Given the location, Can Academies expects the East Lancaster site to eventually operate at capacity, Wentworth said. Can Academies gives free bus passes to its students, and its River Oaks site is the only Texas Can Academy that doesn’t operate at full capacity because of its lack of bus access, Wentworth said.
The River Oaks site is also the only location that Texas Can Academy leases, he said.
Wentworth said the Can Academy will be a good neighbor on East Lancaster, providing demand for goods and services there. It’s a major purchaser of DART bus passes in Dallas, he noted.
The T has agreed to move a bus stop on East Lancaster that’s a block away from the Can Academy site to a location in front of the school, he said.
Will Northern of Northern Realty in Fort Worth represented Brewer.