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Tuesday, August 4, 2020

Fort Worth ISD studying use of property and buildings, changes coming to HQ, Farrington Field

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Robert Francis
Robert Francis
Robert is a Fort Worth native and longtime editor of the Fort Worth Business Press. He is a former president of the local Society of Professional Journalists and was a freelancer for a variety of newspapers, weeklies and magazines, including American Way, BrandWeek and InformatonWeek. A graduate of TCU, Robert has held a variety of writing and editing positions at publications such as the Grand Prairie Daily News and InfoWorld. He is also a musician and playwright.

The Fort Worth ISD is working on a plan to more strategically use its sports and administrative buildings and other non-instructional properties that will likely result in a new central administration building as part of a repurposed Farrington Field complex.

The district is working with the Fort Worth office of JLL, which, over the past 12 months, has prepared a strategic real estate plan to better utilize district properties. The analysis includes a possible sale of FWISD’s current administration building and other non-instructional properties located near the building.

Additionally, the plan calls for the district and JLL to:

• Evaluate repurposing of all or a portion of the Farrington Field complex, including Billingsley Fieldhouse, to determine the best long-term return for the district’s 84,000 students and 5,600 teachers;

• Begin planning for a district leadership and training center for central office staff, faculty and students to be constructed on part of the Farrington complex, while preserving the stadium façade and most of the trees and providing a leafy green space; and

• Evaluate plans to build two new and more efficient multipurpose FWISD stadiums in west and north Fort Worth and update current stadiums in east and southeast Fort Worth, as well as a new multi-purpose gymnasium.

“Our highest profile project is the repurposing of Farrington Field, both the football field and just east of Trail Drive,” said Kent Scribner, Fort Worth ISD superintendent. “We want to do something whereby we honor the past and move forward in a deliberate way.”

The Fort Worth ISD has retained architect Michael Bennett and his Fort Worth-based firm, Bennett Benner Partners, to lead and design a green space and plaza that celebrates the history of Farrington Field and Billingsley Fieldhouse.

The most significant portion of the stadium’s singular façade, the Farrington frieze and columns – an entrance that has welcomed thousands of student athletes and their families since 1939 – will be preserved, according to the Fort Worth ISD.

The plaza will honor the names and legacies of Farrington Field architect Preston Geren, Fort Worth ISD physical education director E.S. Farrington, and Fort Worth ISD coach Jack Billingsley. The design will also upgrade the FWISD “Wall of Fame” that honors more than 180 accomplished alumni.

Preserving the beautiful oak trees lining University Drive and Lancaster Avenue are also key, said Scribner.

FWISD has invested more than $1.2 billion since 2013 in improving classrooms, technology used for teaching, school security and other important efficiencies, Scribner noted.

The effort to downsize and divest the district of inefficient properties, means they can focus more funds into the classroom and academic initiatives and training, he said.

“I think that’s where the money should be spent,” he said.

The current FWISD administration building and surrounding district-owned property are also inefficient, according to the district.

By consolidating and modernizing the layout in a new administrative, leadership, and learning center on the Farrington complex, FWISD will reduce its square footage needs by almost 50% and cut operating costs by 30 plus percent.

The district’s net proceeds from this consolidation and downsizing, and from selling unneeded and excess property, are expected to total approximately $65 million.

The sale of unneeded school properties will have an impact on other entities aside from the district.

The sale could place more than $50 million back on the property tax rolls of not just the Fort Worth ISD but also the City of Fort Worth, Tarrant County, Tarrant County Hospital District, and the Tarrant Regional Water District.

A private sector partnership that responsibly and compatibly develops the Farrington complex will eventually add an estimated $150 million plus to the property tax rolls, continuing the commitment to sound financial planning and excellence in academics, the district said.

Fort Worth ISD officials say that Farrington Field requires tens of millions of dollars in updates, and Billingsley Fieldhouse is at the end of its useful lifetime.

Immediate needs include a new turf field, safety and ADA requirements, upgraded locker rooms, HVAC installation, surface parking repair and other capital improvements costing millions of dollars.

That is cost-prohibitive, said Scribner, who noted that the ISD has a strong record of preserving its historic schools such as Trimble Tech High School, Polytechnic High School, Lily B. Clayton Elementary, Arlington Heights High School and North Hi Mount Elementary and others.

Although some non-Fort Worth ISD sports teams play on Farrington Field, the most frequently used part of the complex is the parking lot. While there will be no interruption for the next 12 to 18 months, the district has begun communicating with sports teams, community organizations and businesses to ensure smooth transitions for all.

Scribner said the district began to look at how to better strategically use their properties about a year ago.

“We began a serious study of properties and identified potentially 18 where there could be an opportunity to create a great deal of energy, spur innovation and opportunity in Fort Worth,” he said.

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