Officially named the Melvin Martin Center for Children’s Safety, the Abilene landmark on South 7th Street has been the site where children have learned about bicycle and pedestrian safety, fire prevention, and stranger awareness since October 1981.
For years, AISD third-grade students – and students from counties around Abilene – have gone to what’s commonly known as Safety City where they drive electric “cars,” ride bikes, get introduced to the rules of the road, and learn other safety rules. On that land and in full view of motorists on South 7th are replicas of local businesses: the Beehive, Senter Realtors, Lowe’s, First Financial Bank, United Supermarkets, and others.
Another business that has long been represented at Safety City is Arrow Ford, which has its own landmark building on the west end of South 1st in Abilene. And just as that building has undergone a facelift in recent years, Arrow Ford owner Seaton Higginbotham – who has served the Abilene ISD as a member of the 2018 Bond Oversight Committee and as a member of the Master Planning Facility – went to AISD Construction instructor Glen Freeman last fall about the possibility of his students at The LIFT re-building the Arrow Ford replica at Safety City.
Higginbotham has been a strong proponent of The LIFT and the district’s Career and Technical Education (CTE) programs, including having donated a car to the district’s automotive program in September 2020 to help create a better experience for students who want to make the automobile industry their careers.
After speaking to Higginbotham, Freeman took on the task of building a new, miniature version of the current Arrow Ford building at Safety City.
“I knew we couldn’t go out and build it on-site because we wouldn’t have enough time to get it done with all the class time we would have to miss,” said Freeman, who is retiring at the end of this school year, ending a 25-year career in AISD. “So, we decided to build it in the shop and take it out there, which is what we did.”
Starting in late January, Freeman’s advanced construction students began building out the frame of the building before adding the walls. Most of the construction, Freeman said, was done by April, and then the wait was on to get the metal facing measured and cut. That part of the project is currently underway to finish the project before the end of the 2021-22 school year.
After workers from Arrow Ford tore down the old building, Freeman’s students took the new building to Safety City in early May and began putting it together. The new version is a slightly larger than the old, which means more concrete must be added to the pad.
“This is the biggest project we took on this year,” Freeman said. “The kids are excited to see it finished, and I know they’ll be as proud of their work on it as I am.”
One of students who worked on the building is Cooper High School senior Nimfasha Olivier, who goes to The LIFT each day for his construction class. Olivier, who graduates next Saturday before going to study construction at Texas State Technical College (TSTC) in Waco, has wanted to study construction since he was in the sixth grade.
“I built a shack in the backyard of our house for my parents, and that got me hooked,” Olivier said. “I like working with my hands and being outside, building cabinets, building shelves … anything I can do to be creative.”
This project certainly gave him and his classmates a chance to be creative as they reproduced the Arrow Ford look on a much smaller scale on the Safety City lot.
“This was a long process, and it was difficult at some points,” Olivier said. “It was difficult moving it over there and then getting it set right on the concrete pad, mainly because this one is bigger and there were some places on the slab where the concrete wasn’t even. But we got it set and I’m excited to see the finished product.”
The project took on special meaning for Olivier because he is one of those thousands of students who went to Safety City as an third-grader.
“I’m very proud of the work we did on this project,” said Olivier, who will intern with a trim carpenter this summer before heading to Waco. “I went through Safety City as a third-grader at Lee (now Purcell) Elementary, and it’s a very satisfying feeling knowing you help build something that so many people will see and will stand up to the test of time.”