Board discusses new high school, facilities tax
If the Woodford County Board of Education does not increase its tax revenue and bonding potential, the earliest the district could move forward with building a new high school would be 2028 - 11 more years, schools Superintendent Scott Hawkins said. "And that's if we don't have any other major (facility need) issues that come up that have to be addressed between now and then," he added. A new high school has been listed as the district's number one priority on its last two facility plans, including the four-year plan approved by the local Board of Education and state Department of Education this year. With a current bonding potential of approximately $13.8 million and an estimated cost of about $46 to $47 million to build a new high school, Hawkins said, "The best option (to move forward with building a new high school) is to look at a facilities tax." A 6-cent facilities tax (per $100 of assessed property value) would increase the district's bonding potential (how much it can borrow) to $53 million, Hawkins explained during a school board work session on July 19. "So it more than covers the cost of a new high school," he said, "and it allows us to begin some work on some of those other unmet needs on the facility plan," which he described as being fiscally responsible. The recently approved four-year facility plan identified a total of $55 million in unmet facility needs, according to Hawkins. He said the approval of a 6-cent facilities tax (restricted for construction and renovation projects) would also put the district in a position to receive state-matching funds, which "would only increase the bonding potential that we would have as a school district." For taxpayers, a 6-cent facilities tax equates to an additional $83 a year (or $7 a month) in property taxes for someone owning a $137,000 house, Hawkins said. He said the owner of a house valued at $200,000 would pay an additional $120 a year in property taxes. If the Board of Education votes to move forward with a 6-cent facilities tax, local residents (a committee of at least five) would have 45 days to circulate a petition in opposition, and secure the signatures of 10 percent of Woodford County's voters, Hawkins said. If the petition drive garnered the necessary signatures, the the board woul have the option of putting the facilities tax on the ballot for a likely special election. Absent opposition to a 6-cent facilities tax during the 45-day window, the Board of Education would be able to immediately move on hiring an architect to design a new high school, Hawkins said. Construction would take 18 to 20 months, and the project from start to finish would take about three years, he told board members. Because of the board's foresight five years ago to purchase land for a new high school adjacent to Woodford County Middle School, both schools will occupy a 95-acre campus near Falling Springs Boulevard, Hawkins pointed out. Leading up to any vote on a 6-cent facilities tax, board members agreed to schedule a series of public forums at various locations to garner feedback from Woodford County residents. Also, board members agreed to have written information available to people in the community to give them a better understanding of why the district is considering a 6-cent facilities tax. Besides laying out what needs to happen in order to move forward with building a new high school, Hawkins explained during last week's work session why the district's bonding potential (how much money it can borrow for facility improvements) has been reduced to $13.8 million. "We've done a lot over the last 10 to 15 years - as a school district - when you look at the projects that have been taken on," said Hawkins. In addition to building a new middle school, the district has been able to do major renovations at Huntertown and Simmons elementary schools as well as HVAC replacement projects at Northside and Southside elementary schools, Hawkins said. "That's why our bonding potential sits at $13.8 (million). It's because we've done all those other projects, which were absolutely necessary," he said. According to the district's approved facility plan, Woodford County High School, which opened in 1964, would be repurposed for a variety of different uses after a new high school opens. The 53-year-old school building would allow the district to centralize some of its operations, with space available for its alternative and adult education programs, as well as being an ideal location for technical education programs to prepare students for careers in manufacturing jobs, Hawkins said. Other options for the current WCHS building include moving Central Office (now on Pisgah Pike) and the transportation department to this more centralized location. Hawkins told board members replacing the HVAC system is the most pressing facility need at the current high school. That need could be addressed with additional dollars generated by a 6-cent facilities tax and state-matching funds, he said. After last week's work session, Hawkins explained why a renovation of an aging high school - so it can continue as a high school for "at least 11 years ... and probably 15 to 20 years" - does not make financial sense. A major renovation, he pointed out, would cost about 75 percent of what it costs for a new building. Additionally, Hawkins said a renovated high school would not have innovative spaces such as new science labs with removable room dividers. "So you're able to do some different things, creative things that you're not able to do in a building that (opened in 1964)," he said. The current high school "was great design 53 years ago. I think we've changed quite a bit (from an educational standpoint) over those 53 years and we're doing things a little differently now."