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$10 Million Addition to La Escuela Fratney

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Groundbreaking for the long-awaited addition to Fratney School will be held before the school year ends. In September 1998, the school community at La Escuela Fratney submitted an expansion plan to the Board of School Directors. It was the result of years of planning that involved parents, school staff, and the community. Not being part of the Neighborhood Schools Initiative that built additions to the most crowded schools in the city, Fratney’s building plan was put on the back burner until now. Before the end of the school year, ground breaking will be held for a long-awaited $10 million addition that will nearly double the school’s current space. La Escuela Fratney is nationally recognized for its two-way Spanish/English program that emphasizes cultural inclusion and integrated curriculum. Scheduled to be razed in 1987, the building was rescued by a group of teachers — many of them Riverwest residents — and neighbors who saw an opportunity to create a new program designed by the community. The school was designated a specialty school, which allowed it to draw students from the community and the city at large. Recognizing the diversity of Riverwest, with its Puerto Rican immigrants, the two-way bilingual program was developed. Fratney now draws about one-third of its students from the neighborhood, with citywide enrollment providing the required language mix of half English speakers and half Spanish speakers. Bob Peterson has been an integral part of Fratney School since its inception. He explained that plans for the new addition began when school staff started working with the School of Architecture at UWM. The design has by now gone through several changes. The final plans are for construction on the south and west sides of the building. MPS has negotiated with the city to use part of the railroad right-of-way to extend the lot. The plans also include renovations on the old building to accommodate the SAGE program, which reduces the student/teacher ratio to 15 to one. Teachers have been forced into cloakrooms and hallways for years to provide special education and other small group services. Small rooms will be created for such work. Because the school had never been renovated, there was no real cafeteria. Students ate in shifts in a basement room that had no kitchen. It was one of 18 MPS schools where prepared meals were shipped in from other kitchens. Activity in the third floor gym, designed as an auditorium, often disturbed classes below. That space will become classrooms once the new gym opens. The addition will be more than just space, Peterson explained. “The architects, Plunkett Raysich, have bent over backwards to develop a sense of esthetics, add some special touches, and open up space for light. We’ve felt positive working with both the MPS facilities folks and the architects. They were open to learning from us. The fine details have been discussed, and as a staff we feel we have been heard.” The building and renovation will take place over two summers, with work limited during the school year. With construction, however, the school will not be able to offer summer recreation services. It has had a good working relationship with Pierce and Gaenslen Schools, however, which will accommodate Fratney’s students for summer programming. It is hoped that the new facility will also be used for community programming. “Our hope is that our active Community Learning Center, which is compromised by our space now, will have more room,” Peterson said. “It’s not a full community center with locker rooms, but we do expect to have adult programming and maybe some teenager programming. We certainly would like to build our ties with the community.” One aspect of the project in need of community input is the playground, which will also be redone. A call for participants will be sent out at that stage of the project.
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