FCPS to propose $57.8 million building for Rise STEM Academy for Girls at Webb Manor site

by Paul Oliva, Web Editor

LEXINGTON, Ky. — After years of persistent appeals from parents, Fayette County Public Schools is set to present a proposal to the school board for a new $57.8 million building for the Rise STEM Academy for Girls. The proposal, according to documents released on Friday, will be on the agenda for Monday’s upcoming board meeting.

The proposed 112,155 square foot building, located at 2160 Versailles Road, would accommodate 900 students in K-8 grades. School district spokesperson Dia Davidson-Smith confirmed the location to the Herald-Leader.

The project design must commence immediately to ensure completion by March 2027, as stated in the board documents. Since 2020, the Rise Academy program has been housed in the former Linlee Elementary building on Spurr Road, a space parents have repeatedly criticized as inadequate. In March, one parent described the school building as being in a “dire situation.”

The proposal comes at a time when the school board’s financial decisions have been under scrutiny. In July 2022, the board proposed a school lunch price hike just months after approving a $10.1 million deal to buy the 35-plus acre family compound from wealthy real estate investor Dudley Webb’s family. The property, which includes a 9,342 square foot mansion, was purchased at 360% above its assessed tax value. Webb received a $2.3 million tax deduction from the sale, calculated by the difference between the $10.1M sale price and the $12.4M appraisal.

Webb Manor -- Pilot's Cut
Drone video of the property at 2160 Versailles Road in August 2022. (Jordan Aerial photography for The Lexington Times)

The deal was expedited thanks to HB 678, a 2022 state law that suspended the requirement for prior approval for local boards to commence district facility projects. The Webbs, considered one of Lexington’s wealthiest families, had the estate tax assessed at $2,802,600 in 2020, though a pre-sale appraisal valued it at $12.4 million.

Webb’s property tax records have raised eyebrows, as he appears to have saved up to a million dollars in property taxes over the years through low assessments. Fayette County Public Schools, funded by property taxes, seem to have been at a loss due to these assessments.

The school board’s purchase of the Webb compound came on the heels of a $0.25 increase in lunch prices, a move criticized as tone-deaf by some. The increase represented an additional $15 per month for a family with three kids, a significant impact for families living paycheck to paycheck.

Property tax records for 2160 Versailles Rd. (Fayette PVA)

The gap between the $2.8 million tax assessment and the $12.4 million pre-sale appraisal of the Webb estate has left many demanding answers. Whether the assessment was too low or the appraisal too high, multi-millionaire Webb appears to have benefitted greatly at the expense of Fayette County Public Schools.

The proposal for the new Rise STEM Academy for Girls building is likely to draw attention to the school board’s financial decisions, especially in light of recent controversies. As the board prepares to discuss the proposal on Monday, the community will be watching closely, with many hoping for a decision that prioritizes the needs of students and families.

Top photo: Aerial view of Webb Manor, 2160 Versailles Rd., proposed site for the new FCPS Rise STEM Academy for Girls building. (Jordan Aerial Photography for The Lexington Times)

For more information and related documents, please refer to the following PDFs: