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Al Key - Denton Record Chronicle

Selwyn looks to future

Profile image for By Britney Tabor / Staff Writer
By Britney Tabor / Staff Writer

One year after massive fire, officials seek new permanent facilities

One year after fire destroyed the main facility at the Selwyn College Preparatory School, campus officials say they’re looking to the future and new construction projects.

Beginning next month, school officials will interview architect firms to assist in creating new modern facilities that integrate with existing ones on campus.

The immediate plan is to get its early childhood program out of its existing building and to get kindergarten through fifth-grade classes in a permanent facility, school board Chairman Monte Jensen said.

“We really see this as a phased process,” he said.

Depending on funds the school raises, it will look to other phases of new construction, according to Selwyn officials.

The school will also look to architects to offer ideas for handling incoming and outgoing traffic on campus.

On the morning of Jan. 26, 2012, fire destroyed the private school’s 50-year-old main building, a U-shaped structure that housed classrooms, administration offices and the school kitchen. Six fire departments were called to fight the blaze.

The Denton Fire Department worked hard at preserving campus structures including the school’s library and the Moody Dining Hall, which was connected to the main building, Jensen told prospective architects touring the school Jan 16.

Jensen said he estimates between 12,000 to 15,000 square feet of Selwyn’s facilities were lost in the fire.

Based on lab results, fire investigators determined the fire was intentionally set with an ignitable liquid that was poured in part of a kindergarten room and hallway. A criminal investigation was opened after the fire.

Denton Fire Marshal Rick Jones said the investigation at Selwyn is still open and that no one has been charged with setting the fire.

He said there are no new leads and investigators are continuing to follow up on information received.

Classes at the campus resumed five days after the fire, and school officials said that besides the physical location of classes, nothing has really changed.

Since the fire, kindergarten classes have been relocated to the early childhood facility and first through fifth-grade classes and administrative services are housed in portable buildings, donated to the school by the Denton school district. Art and music classes were moved to a space near the school’s science building.

Lunch continues to be served in classrooms and at picnic tables on warm days. Meals are being prepared in the early childhood facility, once the living quarters of Selwyn’s founder and former Headmaster John Doncaster.

School officials say they hope to have a portable kitchen up and running on campus within the next month or two.

Fire debris washed into the playground area, said Karen Morris, head of school, and officials are looking at plans to get the area active again as well as restore some sidewalk space around the area that was lost in the fire.

The campus currently educates about 150 students. Beginning next year, Jensen said the school would educate children from 18 months old through high school age.

Jensen said the school lost the enrollment of some families as a result of the fire. He said the school has had prospective families come to tour the campus “and scratch their chin a bit,” but once they get them in the classrooms and share with them the curriculum offered to students, they’ve had some success in getting families to enroll their children.

Some families who left Selwyn after the fire are returning and excited to be back, said Clarke Stephan, the school’s finance director.

Morris said the fire really pulled everyone together as a community and family. Morale on campus is good, she said.

“There’s a lot of excitement in the air when parents get together to talk about the future of Selwyn,” Morris said.

The fire made those families who remained at the school stronger, Jensen said, and it also re-energized relationships with school alumni. Since the fire, alumni have been involved in the architectural selection process and helping in other ways to move the school forward, he said.

“The passion that the alumni have for both the existing building space[s] as well as the excitement they have for the new building space has been exciting, both for them and for us,” Jensen said.

School officials conducted two campus tours for representatives from seven architect firms Jan. 12 and Jan. 16. On those tours the representatives viewed school grounds and facilities. On several occasions they stopped to take notes or photographs of the facilities and grounds.

Jensen said the school wants to proceed with due diligence, noting that time is important in moving students into a permanent space.

According to school documents shared with the architect firms, obtained by the Denton Record-Chronicle, school officials are looking to construct a replacement building in a space between 8,000 to 10,000 square feet with plans for additional facilities to be phased in.

Documents reveal that school officials estimate its insurance settlement for the replacement building to total $1.6 million. About 90 percent of the insurance settlement has been resolved, Stephan said.

A capital campaign is being launched to raise money to assist with new construction, building renovation and restoration and debt repayment.

The schedule for constructing a permanent building for the school’s elementary is not yet concrete, but Jensen said he’s hopeful students can occupy a facility in 18 months. Time is important, but it’s also important to do this project right, he said.

About three to four months ago, a campus committee — made up of parents, teachers, alumni and board members — was formed to discuss new construction, possible repairs and maintenance for existing building and ideas that would raise funds for the school’s capital campaign.

The school on Thursday kicked off fundraising efforts with a dinner theater attended by more than 100 people, school spokeswoman Mellina Stucky said. Information on funds raised from the event was not made available.


BRITNEY TABOR can be reached at 940-566-6876. Her e-mail address is