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Leaders of Frank Lloyd Wright School of Architecture divided over maintaining accreditation

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PHOENIX - The future of the Frank Lloyd Wright School of Architecture has divided the institution named for the iconic designer. The quest to keep its accreditation status has some school board members concerned the degree program will end, while its foundation denied the school is in danger of closing.

The Scottsdale-based Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation, which operates the school, announced last week that it would not independently incorporate the school as a way to stay accredited. The Chicago-based Higher Learning Commission, which accredits degree-granting colleges and universities in 19 states, changed its bylaws two years ago to prohibit accreditation for schools that operate as divisions of a larger organization.

Without accreditation, the school would be unable to offer a Master of Architecture degree, which offers students the chance to learn from those who once worked with the legendary architect.

The foundation's decision has shaken the school's Board of Governors, who say the program may have to shut down when its accreditation expires in 2017.

"The school could continue but it would not train architects that could become licensed. I'm not sure what value it would bring to them or to the profession," said Maura Grogan, board chairwoman.

Foundation President and CEO Sean Malone disagreed, saying the possibility of the school closing in the future was not "grounded in fact or reality."

He said he understood the board's desire to try separating the school from the foundation to meet the new accreditation criteria, but it wouldn't have been feasible.

"It was determined that it just wasn't appropriate to do that and simultaneously be committing long-term funding at well over $1 million a year," Malone said of the foundation's financial support.

Wright, who died in 1959, designed 1,141 architectural works. More than one-third of his buildings are listed on the National Register of Historic Places or are in a National Historic District. His Taliesin estate in Spring Green, Wisconsin, and one in Scottsdale, dubbed Taliesin West, became laboratories of sorts for student apprentices.

Approximately 20 students are enrolled at the Wright School, which was initiated in 1932. They divide their time between Scottsdale and Wisconsin. Besides education programs, the foundation also oversees preservation, restoration and tourism related to Wright-designed buildings.

Since 2012, Wright officials have considered other options to keep its accreditation, such as jointly partnering with another institution.

"It's my understanding the foundation has looked into this in the past and has not found suitable partners," Grogan said. "I'm unclear what has changed at this point."

Malone said the school has already received "significant interest" from a number of institutions nationwide.

"I've heard suggestions that partnering with somebody else is in essence the definition of closing the school — which is completely inaccurate," Malone said. "There are no plans, intentions or willingness whatsoever to close the Frank Lloyd Wright School of Architecture."

Grogan said she is hopeful that the board and the foundation can come to a resolution. Now, the sides agree that the school provides a unique learning environment.

"To sit in a dining room and overhear conversations from four or five generations of people all debating, arguing, sharing and laughing — it's a very, very special place," Grogan said.

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Follow Terry Tang on Twitter at https://www.twitter.com/ttangAP

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