• Bob Vlach, Woodford Sun Staff

Need for new high school explained

If and when the Woodford County Board of Education votes to enact a facilities tax to cover the cost of building a new high school, schools Superintendent Scott Hawkins said voters in the community who oppose the tax would have 45 days to circulate a petition and generate a sufficient number of signatures to move the issue to a special election. A vote of registered Woodford County voters would then determine whether or not the board could implement a facilities tax, but only if the board voted to proceed with a special election and pay its cost of about $50,000, Hawkins told a small gathering of people. They were in the Woodford County High School library on Sept. 14 for the second of three public forums on a possible facilities tax to cover the approximate cost of $47 million to build a new 1,400-student high school. If a facilities tax was approved, Hawkins said, the Board of Education would be ready to hire an architect and begin the design process for a new high school in the spring of 2018 and "we could potentially be in a new building in the fall of 2020. That to me is pretty incredible." While a question was asked about how tax dollars have been spent in the past on new construction and facility upgrades, those who spoke at last Thursday's public forum agreed that there is a need for a new high school. Before the board takes action on whether or not to enact a facilities tax, a final public forum is scheduled this evening, Thursday, Sept. 21, at Northside Elementary School in Midway, beginning at 7. In his presentation last Thursday evening, Hawkins credited the Woodford County Board of Education for having "great foresight" in its 2012 decision to purchase 61 acres - adjacent to the current middle school - for a new high school. The combined 95-acre campus would offer opportunities for the middle and high schools "to share facilities, to share resources, to share programs," he said. Woodford County Public Schools' current bonding potential (how much money it can borrow) of $13.8 million does not cover the cost of a new high school. The bonding potential has been reduced by outstanding debt on the cost to build a new middle school, renovate two elementary schools and replace the HVAC systems at two other elementary schools. A facilities tax of 6 cents per $100 of assessed property value ($90 year for someone owning a $150,000 home) would generate sufficient revenue to increase the district's bonding potential (and allow the district to apply for state matching dollars) to cover the cost of building a new high school and also allow the district to address other unmet facility needs, Hawkins explained. "I'm not trying to minimize a property tax increase because I know it will be a burden for some people in our community. I get that," he acknowledged. "I prefer to look at it as a 50-year investment in our community." Without a facilities tax that would increase the district's bonding capacity to $53 million, the district would not have the bonding potential to begin discussions about building a new high school until at least 2028, Hawkins told those at last Thursday's forum. He said a 20-person Local Planning Committee (made up of parents, community members, teachers and school administrators) identified a new high school as the district's number one facility need in both 2013 and 2017. The current high school opened in 1964, and it would cost about $28 million over the next 20 years to renovate that facility, Hawkins said. "While I think we have done a good job maintaining this facility over that time," he said, "education has changed over the last 53 years. And we need updated space for our kids. We need new science and engineering labs. We need space that can be used in a variety of ways." Now in his 10th year as superintendent, Hawkins said the question he's asked most frequently is "When are we going to get a new high school?" He described the public forums as an opportunity for him to answer that question. The presentation given by Hawkins on Sept. 14 was recorded and will be posted on the district's Facebook page so people in the community, who couldn't attend the forum, can access the information about a possible facilities tax to cover the cost of a new high school, he said. In addition to the upcoming public forum at Northside and two previous forums, Hawkins has given presentations to the Versailles and Midway city councils, Woodford Fiscal Court, local Chamber of Commerce and the Woodford County Farm Bureau, he said. Hawkins told those at last Thursday's forum that if a new high school is built, the current high school would provide space for the district's alternative school and adult education programs, central office and other district-wide services. One of the most exciting possibilities - given the current high school's close proximity to local manufacturers - is using that facility for technical learning opportunities to help prepare students for manufacturing jobs, Hawkins said.

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