The abandoned R. Vickery Elementary School at 1905 E. Vickery Blvd. is easily recognizable, with its faded blue facade, boarded-up windows and overgrown bushes.
The deteriorating historic school building, now owned by the city, has been closed since the 1980s and is often used as a shelter by people experiencing homelessness.
But a new idea for the site could help beautify and restore it while setting up opportunities for further economic development along East Vickery Boulevard, from Riverside Drive to U.S. 287.
Beta Tau Lambda, the local chapter of the historically Black fraternity Alpha Phi Alpha Inc., is looking to acquire the property from the city of Fort Worth. The site is currently valued at roughly $1.5 million, according to the Tarrant Appraisal District.
“We thought that this would be a great opportunity for us as a chapter and foundations to really spur economic development and revitalization of this entire corridor and provide advocacy and service to our community in a meaningful way,” said Roderick Miles, a member of Beta Tau Lambda and board member of the Beta Tau Lambda Charitable Foundation.
The fraternity has a long history related to the former school. Several past members of the chapter taught at the school after it reopened as a school for Black students in 1963. Past member Troy Sparks served as the first Black principal of the school, said Glen Harmon, former president of Beta Tau Lambda and executive director of the Livingston Community Development Foundation.
“Another interesting fact, when brother Troy Sparks left the school as principal and went into the administration with Fort Worth ISD, he oversaw desegregation,” Harmon said.
Several ideas have been floated about the potential uses of the building once it is repaired, said Stacy Marshall, president and CEO of Southeast Fort Worth Inc. The possibilities include fraternity chapter headquarters, an event center, a business incubator space or a food hall. A potential police substation is also under consideration.
This project will have a ripple effect on the area and transform the corridor, Marshall said.
“This school is actually in one of the targeted areas that we have been looking at to bring true revitalization, to clean it up and start it as a catalyst,” he said. “And that means bringing more activity to the area, bringing more foot traffic to the area.”
One of the chief uses of the building once redeveloped will be to house the fraternity’s Alpha Academy program, a male mentorship program designed for students from 5th-12th grades who reside in the greater Fort Worth community. But the ultimate goal is to share the space with the community, said Beta Tau Lambda chapter president Adrian Gray.
“We see this building as an opportunity to broaden and reach more young men that are in desperate need of mentorship,” Gray said. “And I just wanted to highlight that (it) is definitely not the only use, but a very important use when you talk about really building into the fabric of our community and providing that light.”
City Council members are expected to consider the project proposal in January.
This project is “the perfect fit,” Councilmember Chris Nettles, whose district includes the abandoned school building, said.
“I think it has the potential of moving forward because you have my office, along with Southeast Fort Worth (Inc.), who is charged with spurring economic development in the southeast quarter. And then you have Alpha who wants to not just take over the land but provide the land as a resource to give back to the community,” Nettles said.
This is not the city of Fort Worth’s first attempt at selling the property. On Sept. 15, 2020, city documents show the city attempted to sell the building for over $90,000. But the sale fell through, Marshall said.
The R. Vickery School
The 12-room school opened in 1910 as a school for white-only students. At the time, the surrounding neighborhood of Glennwood was 98% white. In 1937, it became an elementary school. Over time, several expansions were added to the school to accommodate a growing number of students.
In May 1962, R. Vickery Elementary School closed as a white school and reopened as a Black school in September 1963. But a declining student population forced the school to close in 1985.
That same year, Fort Worth ISD sold the property to Doyle Lee Fuller and part of the building was used as a nightclub. The club was closed in 2004 after alleged violations of the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Code. The same space was then turned into a photo ID and laminating service.
The city of Fort Worth seized the property in 2007 following its tax foreclosure. Fuller died in 2012.
Source: City of Fort Worth, Tarrant Appraisal District
Once the sale is finalized and approved by council members, community input sessions will be planned.
Beta Tau Lambda is currently fundraising for the project, looking at grants and working with financial institutions to obtain capital.
Glenn Lewis, chairman of the Texas Wesleyan Board of Trustees and former NAACP lawyer, has purchased the naming rights for the building at $75,000, to be paid out over the next 10 years.
“We had one of our fraternity brothers, who’s an architect, do an inspection of the building and said, ‘Well, the building has great bones, man.’ It’s a pretty solid building,” Lewis said, who is also a member of the fraternity. “So we think we can bring that building back.”
The proposed project to revitalize the site is expected to encourage continuous development and revitalization on the city’s east side. Nettles described it as “reinventing District 8 and putting it on the map.”
Disclaimer: Texas Wesleyan is a financial supporter of the Fort Worth Report.
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