When the Three City Center office building opens next year, workers will look out the back windows at a fountain and flowers in Allentown's Arts Park.
The 7-year-old park is situated near what is planned to be an arts trail, taking people from Allentown's arts campus to the heart of the city's revitalized downtown.
From those City Center windows, workers will be able to see their colleagues eating lunch, throwing Frisbees and listening to live music.
If Allentown School District officials had their way, office workers might have seen something even more pleasant: their own children leaving music class at Miller Symphony Hall, skipping across the park's green and ducking into the Allentown Art Museum for their next class.
Near the beginning of the 2012-13 school year, Allentown school officials hatched a plan to someday open an arts "theme school," or even a district-sanctioned charter school, in the city's downtown. Potentially housed in Symphony Hall, the Baum School of Art and the Allentown Art Museum, it would have used the arts district as its campus and emphasized arts education for elementary-age students.
The goal was for the school district to play a role in shaping the future of Allentown by providing a school unlike any other in the region, one that would lure white-collar workers with children downtown, Superintendent Russ Mayo said.
"Wouldn't it be nice if you lived downtown and you worked downtown and your kids could go to school downtown?" Mayo said.
Instead of developing such a school, the district may be forced to spend millions on one that's not under its control and well outside the arts district. The Arts Academy Elementary Charter School, which has twice been rejected by the Allentown School Board, would set up at Sixth and Union streets in a building owned by developer Abe Atiyeh in the shadow of center city. The academy was founded by charter school veteran Tom Lubben, whose help Mayo sought in developing the district's plan.
"The idea never got out of its infancy," Mayo said of his own plan.
Lubben was one of the few people who knew about it. Seeing potential in the idea, he scouted a location for a new school, but not one associated with the district. His proposal is now before the state Charter School Appeal Board as Lubben hopes to open the school next year.
"The only reason I went to the Allentown School District," Lubben said, "is because they invited me there."
In interviews with The Morning Call, Mayo, Lubben and Allentown Mayor Ed Pawlowski revealed little-known details about the origin of an arts school in Allentown and the district's complicated relationship with Lubben's charter school.
The concept of an arts school downtown originated from meetings Mayo had with Pawlowski and downtown developers, though Mayo won't identify which ones.
It made sense since Allentown is in the midst of a monumental revitalization effort, propelled by the new PPL Center, where the minor league Lehigh Valley Phantoms will play hockey and major acts like the Eagles and Tom Petty will perform.
The development is spurred by a special taxing district that funnels all state and local taxes except real estate taxes into construction. New offices and apartments, shops and restaurants are expected to lure more people downtown.
Residents in those pricey new apartments, though, may have reservations about sending their children to Allentown public schools.
Despite high levels of academic growth in certain schools, 19 of Allentown School District's 20 buildings missed the state's benchmark for success, a 70 out of 100, on last year's School Performance Profile.
Reductions in state funding combined with rising pensions costs and more subsidies to charter schools have ushered in five straight years of job cuts that mostly have affected teachers. The cuts have led to a shortened school day for high school students and reduced course offerings across the district outside of core classes.
Pawlowski, whose children attend district schools, believes the district is providing a good education. But the public perception of Allentown schools is jeopardizing the city's revitalization, he said.