• Bob Vlach, Woodford Sun Staff

New high school tax discussion continues

Woodford County schools Superintendent Scott Hawkins acknowledged that residents in the community who do not have children or grandchildren in the schools may not see the need for a new high school. However, by and large, most of the feedback he's heard at public forums and government meetings on a proposed 6-cent facilities tax to pay for a new high school has been "fairly positive," he said. "I think people really do desire to have a new high school for our kids. And I think that's the sentiment - at least that I've gotten - in the meetings that I've attended," said Hawkins, responding to a question at a third public forum on Thursday, Sept. 21, at Northside Elementary School in Midway. Two previous public forums were held at Woodford County High School, which would be replaced under a proposal to levy a facilities tax to pay for a new $47 million high school on property adjacent to Woodford County Middle School. The proposed 6-cent facilities tax to pay for a new 1,400-student high school would cost the owner of a $150,000 home $90 a year/$7.50 a month, the owner of a $200,000 home $120 a year/$10 a month, and the owner of a $300,000 home $180 a year/$15 a month. "I know that that will be a burden for some people in our community," said Hawkins. "The way that I like to look at it is that (a 6-cent facilities tax) is a 50-year investment in our community and in our kids. And why do I say it's a 50-year investment? Our current high school is 53 years old." While no one voiced opposition to the proposed facilities tax to cover the cost of building a new high school at last week's public forum, two parents did ask questions related to the construction of a new high school. Ted Swansegar, who has a son at Woodford County Middle School, suggested the district could save money by using existing fields and not building all of the athletic facilities (football, baseball and softball fields) shown in a preliminary site plan for a new high school. Because Woodford County Public Schools does not own fields located at Woodford County Park, Hawkins said, the district could not make upgrades or repairs as those athletic facilities age. A resident of Midway, Swansegar said he and his wife support a facilities tax and want a new high school to be a reality for their son. Because it's already an hour-and-a-half bus ride for him to get home from school, he also supports building a bypass from Falling Springs Boulevard to Frankfort Road (U.S. 60) at or near the intersection of Midway Road in order to decrease traffic that now has to travel through downtown Versailles. "So right now, it's not a very good situation," he said. In addressing traffic concerns, Hawkins pointed out that two entrances/exits are planned for the future high school site. Tyrone Pike, for example, with upgrades such as turning lanes, could be used as a student access to reduce traffic on Falling Springs Boulevard, he said. Phillip Stiefel, whose son and daughter are both students in the school system, asked how decisions will be made going forward on what school facilities are included in a plan. A design process of nine months to a year would allow some opportunities for input from people in the community on what they'd like to see in the high school and on its campus, Hawkins said. "We'll talk with our teachers, with our staff to get their ideas on what ... the (classroom) wings need look like? How do we want to do our classroom setup?" he said. "If this becomes reality ... we are going to involve the community in this process," added school board Chair Ambrose Wilson IV. "I can foresee us having listening sessions where we come and gather like this, and talk about ... what the community wants ... So there's going to be a lot of public opportunities to help us with the design and planning of this school." If the Woodford County Board of Education votes to levy a 6-cent facilities tax, residents of the community would have 45 days to form a committee and circulate a petition opposing the property tax. The board could vote to have a special election to put the tax issue to a public vote if the petition garners a required number of signatures. As to when the board may move forward on the issue of a new high school, Wilson said, "I would prefer to do this sooner rather than later. I think it's time to talk about it and go one way or the other." Before the board votes on a tax levy, he said, the community will have an opportunity to comment at a public meeting. During his presentation last Thursday at Northside, Hawkins reviewed why a 6-cent facilities tax was necessary in order to build a new high school - the top priority in the district's four-year facilities plan in both 2013 and again in 2017. The facilities tax would increase the district's bonding potential (how much it can borrow) to $53 million and allow students to potentially be in a new high school in the fall of 2020, Hawkins explained. Later, Stiefel, whose family lives in Versailles, asked if the facilities tax would "go away?" "It could potentially after the (20-year) bonds are paid off," responded Hawkins. A local Board of Education's decision on eliminating the tax would be based on facility needs, but "we can't obligate a future board," said the schools superintendent. "There's no way that we can say that that tax will definitely go away 20 years from now. We can't make that decision. We know it will be in place for that length of time, and then if the board at that point in time wanted to make some adjustments that would be their decision..." Without a 6-cent facilities tax to boost the district's bonding potential from its current $13.8 million, Hawkins said the local Board of Education could not begin discussing a new high school until 2028 at the earliest "and that's if we have no bonded (construction) projects between now and then. I can tell you in the next 11 years we're going to have a bonded project. So you've just pushed it out even that much further. "...if we do nothing, next year's kindergarten class would not see a new high school." He said a new $47 million high school would be built on 61 acres adjacent to Woodford County Middle School - creating a 95-acre combined campus along Falling Springs Boulevard. The district would have to spend about $28 million over the next 20 years on renovations of the existing high school - built in 1964 - if a new high school were not built, Hawkins said. He said the current high school would become available for other uses if a new high school were built. The district's alternative school and adult education programs could be moved to the current high school, and space would be available in the building for technical education opportunities to prepare students for manufacturing and logistics jobs coming to the community, he added.

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