A $7 million facelift will transform South Dallas’ MLK school into an arts academy

By Skye Seipp,

July 8, 2020

South Dallas

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Co-published by our media partner, The Dallas Weekly

South Dallas’ Martin Luther King Jr. Learning Center is now the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Arts Academy — a Dallas ISD “transformation” school focused on performing and fine arts.

Students attending the school before the curriculum switch can continue their education there. Moving forward, students from across the district will be admitted to the arts academy using a lottery system that doesn’t include any audition or academic requirements, but DISD officials say children living in the current MLK attendance zone will receive “priority admissions” to the arts academy. 

The school initially will open for students in pre-K through fifth grade and will offer specialized education in visual arts, music and dance. After its launch this fall, the school will add a grade each year for the next three years, until its 2020-21 fifth graders are in the eighth grade. 

Teachers from Booker T. Washington High School for Performing and Visual Arts will help mentor the students. DISD officials, dubbing it “Baby Booker T.,” say the MLK Jr. Arts Academy will act as a catalyst to the acclaimed magnet high school or other fine arts programs. 

Facility enhancements are now underway at the school as part of the $1.6 billion Dallas ISD bond package Dallas voters approved in 2015. The school is receiving $7 million total for new additions, and construction this summer is phase one of the plans. 

Improvements to finishes, a new entryway and other upgrades are underway at the MLK Jr. Arts Academy. 

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Construction began this summer and is expected to be completed before school starts on Aug. 17, said Daniel Arrowood of HKS Architects — the company responsible for the renovations — at a June 17 virtual community meeting. 

Changes are being made in the following areas of the school: 

  • A temporary new entry sign
  • The maker space
  • Library
  • Piano lab
  • Dance lab
  • Choir and band practice areas added to the auditorium
  • New special education classrooms
  • Renovations to the art room, including a ceramics kiln that will be just outside of the art room, but not a part of the main building

All of the work includes new flooring, ceiling and wall finishes to these areas of the school. Accompanying colors will be painted on the ceilings, floors, and walls of the entryways, Arrowood says. 

“We want to create some vibrant spaces in that building,” he said. 

Some classrooms will be receiving new features. The dance lab will add a sprung hardwood floor, ballet bars and mirrors on the wall. A new ceramics kiln is being added outside of the art room in an enclosed space. 

Band and choir practice areas also are being retrofitted into the auditorium. These renovations will add new acoustic walling, floor, wall and ceiling finishes, new carpet and an art mural behind the stage. School principal Romikianta Sneed said performances will still take place in the auditorium and that it will operate as a “flex space.” 

The new maker space will include a glass overhead door, similar to a garage door. This space will be right next to the administration area in the front of the school that also will be getting a makeover, but will stay the same functionally, Arrowood said. 

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Special education classes are being added after the relocation of other spaces, Arrowood said. 

A new entry is going to be put up at the front entrance off of Warren Avenue that will be similar to a billboard. The design presented at the meeting featured an image of Martin Luther King Jr. in black and white on one side and the colors purple, green, yellow, blue and blood orange on the other side. Arrowood described the design as a “portal.”

However, the entryway is temporary and Arrowood said a permanent entrance will be completed in another phase of construction. 

A number of how many phases are expected was not given in this meeting, but Arrowood said HKS expects to begin phase two in summer 2021. A full list of what upgrades will be in that phase was not given, but he added exterior renovations are likely. 

Pick-up and drop-offs for students are expected to remain the same when classes begin, as there currently are no plans for construction to take place after the school year begins.

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