Project supports historic Stop Six neighborhood
(Irving, TX November 14, 2023) The young men of Paul Laurence Dunbar Young Men’s Leadership Academy (YMLA) in Texas’ Fort Worth Independent School District returned to classes this fall to a newly renovated middle school campus, new high school and new gymnasium.
KAI, which provided architecture, interior design, MEP/FP engineering and construction administration on the $30 million project, reimagined the academy’s 1950s school as a college campus, in addition to adding a stand-alone high school building and 600-seat competition gymnasium to increase the academy’s total area from 55,000 to 110,000 square feet.
“The renovation and additions pay homage to the Stop Six community and celebrates the success of the young men who walk the halls of YMLA,” said KAI President Darren L. James, FAIA, NOMA. “The young men have embraced the spirit of African American poet and novelist Paul Laurence Dunbar and Reby Cary, a prominent Fort Worth native who focused on education and literacy to become the first Black professor at UTA – both of which improved themselves through the power of education. For these young men, YMLA is a part of their identity and serves as a cornerstone within their development and growth. The new facility serves as a canvas for them to imagine and create their futures for establishing a pathway to lifelong learning utilizing their inspirations as a springboard for their goals.”
Established in 2012, YMLA is Fort Worth ISD’s first single-gender school for boys offering a rigorous preparatory curriculum beginning in the sixth grade. The academy occupies a 1950s school that once housed Paul Laurence Dunbar Elementary and Junior High School. Due to the exponential growth and success of the young men that matriculated through the program, the existing facilities reached their physical limit of housing the robust program. KAI was originally selected to design a new school on an alternative site to support the academic rigor of YMLA. Upon analysis of the site, the district decided to renovate, expand and add new buildings to the existing campus to create a collegial feel emulating the environments YMLA students will attend upon graduation.
YMLA boasts an outstanding graduation rate with many of their students going on to attend some of the most elite colleges and universities across the country and have been the recipients of millions of dollars of scholarships to help pay for their collegiate experiences.
KAI’s designers worked within the constraints of the site which fronts on a residential street and is surrounded by residential properties on all other sides to design a new, stand-alone high school building and 600-seat competition gymnasium. The new gym also includes a band room and robotics and engineering labs.
The original building’s MEP/FP systems were upgraded to current standards and existing classrooms were reconfigured and repurposed for 21st Century learning. KAI also designed a new public entrance and façade on the school, plus expanded the library and added collaboration spaces to support the academy’s academic curriculum.
“KAI is honored to be the architect and engineer for the YMLA renovation. I am passionate about all our educational projects and especially proud of our work on Paul Laurence Dunbar Young Men’s Leadership Academy because it’s in the heart of the Fort Worth’s Stop Six community,” said James in a Regional Black Contractors Association article. “As a Black architect, the ability to design spaces educating and influencing our children preparing them for leadership and just as importantly opening their eyes to opportunities in the architectural profession by showing them people that look like them. The collective power of these young scholars is amazing and for KAI to be part of their academic journey is edifying knowing that these young men will change the world in ways that are still being formulated in their dreams.”
Photography by Wade Griffith