• Bob Vlach, Woodford Sun Staff

New high school tops facility plan

A Local Planning Committee has agreed that building a new high school should be the school district's top priority on its updated four-year facilities plan. A cost estimate of $46.424 million to build a new 1,400-student high school and related facilities was based on a square-footage calculation provided to Woodford County Public Schools by the Kentucky Department of Education (KDE). With the current high school nearing its listed capacity of 1,312 students, and a potential for population growth related to new industry and residential development in Woodford County, Local Planning Committee (LPC) member Josh McWilliams voiced concern about building a high school for only 1,400 students. After listening to his comment, LPC members agreed to recommend increasing the size of a new high school facility in order to raise its capacity to about 1,500 students. The cost estimate to build a larger high school facility, which will be located on district-owned land adjacent to the current middle school campus, would also increase. Woodford County schools architect Margie Jacobs said KDE cost estimates for a "model high school program" include reasonable costs for athletic facilities and an auditorium, which was removed as a discretionary construction project on the recommended four-year facilities plan. When a question arose related to how much the school district owes on its recent construction projects, Chief Operating Officer Amy Smith said Woodford County schools can only add $13 million to its current debt "so that's all we can borrow at this present day - period." She said the needs listed on the district's most recent facilities plan generated $2.5 million in state funding, "but we're not talking about a lot of money, unfortunately." Parent Dan Jackson told other LPC members that his family and other families live in this community because of the school system's great reputation in terms of educating students, but he said it's time to build a new high school. "If people need to pay a little bit more taxes (in order to build a new high school), then pay a little bit more taxes. Or move somewhere else," Jackson said. The LPC's recommended four-year facilities plan goes to the KDE before being presented to the Woodford County Board of Education for approval. Also, a final public forum on the updated facilities plan will likely occur in March - before or after a regular 6 p.m. Board of Education meeting. LPC members toured school district facilities on Jan. 18. And they toured Southside Elementary before reviewing a draft of an updated four-year facilities plan in that school's library on Feb. 22. In addition to agreeing that a new high school should remain the district's top priority, LPC members approved a four-year facilities plan that listed the major renovation of Woodford County High School - to repurpose that building for other potential uses: Central Office, bus garage, preschool center, alternative-school program and community education center - as a capital construction priority. The estimated cost to repurpose WCHS ($9.62 million) led to questions, but LPC members were assured that the project would not move forward until after a new high school is built and the scope of the repurposing project could change moving forward. Major renovations for Northside and Southside elementary schools are also listed as capital construction priorities in the updated four-year facilities plan being recommended to the Board of Education. The Southside project includes an expansion of its cafeteria. Discretionary construction projects include new awnings to cover the sidewalks around Southside's bus loop, awnings to cover sidewalks around the bus loop at WCHS, bleachers at Simmons Elementary and a bathroom/concession building to serve the outdoor athletic facilities at Woodford County Middle School. LPC members agreed to remove a discretionary project to pave a secondary emergency roadway between Southside and Huntertown elementary schools. Safety concerns related to off-road and other vehicles using a roadway between the schools for illegal purposes persuaded the LPC to remove that as a project on a new four-year facilities plan. Kentucky school districts are required to approve a facilities plan every four years. Parents, teachers, school administrators and community leaders serve on the Local Planning Committee, which makes a recommendation to the Board of Education.

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