Western Academy Gets Expansion OK For STEAM Program

Western Academy Charter School received approval from the Royal Palm Beach Village Council last week to expand its square footage to accommodate new magnet school facilities.

The 10-year-old charter school, located in the Royal Plaza Shopping Center at the northeast corner of Royal Palm Beach and Southern boulevards, sought a modification of conditions previously imposed by the council limiting the allowable space.

Planning & Zoning Director Bradford O’Brien said the application will increase the 21,633-square-foot maximum previously permitted by the village.

“The applicant is requesting modification of this condition to allow for a 10,326-square-foot expansion into a contiguous building,” O’Brien said. “The increase will bring the total square footage to 31,959 square feet. The applicant is not requesting any increase in the total number of students.”

O’Brien said village staff had reviewed the application with regard to parking and traffic performance standards, the village’s comp plan and code of ordinances. It was staff’s opinion that the request is appropriate.

Contractor Frank Nasto said the academy is seeking only to increase the square footage, not the number of students, which was most recently set by council resolution in 2012. Nasto said the school will address traffic issues in the future, if any arise.

Councilman Richard Valuntas favored the application. “It’s my understanding that this application is because the charter school is successful, right? You need more space?” Valuntas said.

Western Academy Principal Linda Terranova said the expansion is to support school’s new Science, Technology, Engineering and Applied Mathematics (STEAM) academy.

Vice Mayor David Swift also supported the application. “The big question is always, ‘Will students increase?’” Swift said. “If they have more students, they would have to come back to us.”

Terranova said there are currently 390 students enrolled at the charter school, and the maximum allowed is 485.

“We’re going to be adding a new STEAM academy,” she said. “We’re going to be taking our high-level students out of our current middle-school program, as well as high-level students from surrounding schools, and creating an academy specifically for the principles of science, technology and math. We have engineering classes, robotics classes, animation and computer coding, gaming mechanics, a lot of really fun classes that are going to be very engaging.”

Terranova said the school will replace students from the existing program with new ones, but stay within the 485 students allowed.

Councilman Jeff Hmara congratulated Terranova on the success of the school, pointing out that Western Academy is among the top schools in the state based on 2012-13 FCAT scores.

“That’s what led us to do it,” Terranova said, pointing out that Western Academy students ranked in the top 7 percent in math, in the top 14 percent for reading and in the top 13 percent for science. “The kids are doing really well. We really need to take this to the highest level.”

Swift said he was impressed with the organization of the parents’ pick-ups and drop-offs. “They are really good about lining up and being very safe,” he said. “It’s working out quite well.”

“I crack the whip with that,” Terranova said. “It’s very fast. We have it down to a science.”

Valuntas made a motion to approve the application, which carried 4-0. Councilman Fred Pinto had recused himself from voting on the matter due to a possible conflict of interest.

The new STEAM academy will begin during the 2014-15 school year. Learn more at www.westernacademycharter.com.