Phased construction of high school raises concern, Board selects architect
A longtime former school board member and teacher both voiced concerns to a phased approach to building a new Woodford County High School during Monday’s Board of Education meeting. Their comments followed a report from the district’s fiscal agent, when board members were told the current bonding (borrowing) capacity of the district was an estimated $37 million. The total cost of building a new 1,400 student high school has been estimated at $46 million or more. After Woodford County voters defeated a proposed nickel tax to pay for a new WCHS during a special election last June, board Chair Ambrose Wilson IV told those at Monday’s meeting that the school board began exploring options to build a high school as a phased construction project. This approach was questioned by former board member Margie Cleveland. “You’re now moving forward on phased construction of a new high school without bringing the community into the discussion,” Cleveland said. “Phased construction has unknown components, specifically affecting a second phase.” She pointed out board members may not be on the board when subsequent phases of a new high school are completed. “It’s time again for the board to let the community decide the fate of a new high school – not just five individuals,” said Cleveland. “A very quick option,” she continued, “would be to pass the nickel tax and then when the recall committee (opposing a facilities tax) is formed embrace it. Let the community know where to sign (the recall petition). This process would only delay phase one construction by 45 days. “If the recall is successful, then the community has expressed that they will welcome phased construction. A decision this controversial with so many consequences should not been made without community input.” Her words were applauded by audience members. Hunter Shewmaker, who served on the recall committee that was successful in its campaign to defeat a proposed nickel tax in a special election last June, told board members, “We will challenge” any effort to enact a facilities tax to pay for a new high school. Sharon Tippett, a longtime physical education teacher at WCHS, said she’s opposed to building a high school in phases because of the uncertainty of completing the project. “I’m afraid if we build it in phases or cut here or cut there … we may not be as proud of it and it may be more difficult to have that school of distinction like we have now,” she said. Chip Sutherland, of Hilliard Lyons, cited the “incredible” financial health of Woodford County Public Schools for allowing its board to even contemplate building a new high school when most other Kentucky school districts are not in that position. He and Kelly Mrsic, also of Hilliard Lyons, presented options that would increase or decrease the school district’s bonding capacity depending on its use of capital outlay dollars, which have been spent on smaller construction projects including new cameras at WCHS and the Southside cafeteria/kitchen addition in recent years. “This is a characteristic of a healthy (school) system,” said Sutherland, “that it’s been able to use its capital outlay … to pay for improvements” with cash. Not using capital outlay dollars to increase bonding capacity decreases how much the district can borrow ($31.59 million), according to the fiscal agent’s report. Using all of its bonding capacity – even on a signature project like a new high school – leaves no funds for other projects, Sutherland said. If the board voted to accept a non-recallable property tax rate that results in a 4 percent increase in local tax revenue annually for each of five years, its action would potentially result in a higher school tax rate for a homeowner than if a nickel facility tax was enacted along with two non-recallable 4 percent increases in local property tax revenue over five years, Sutherland said. One of the board’s first actions after its nickel tax proposal failed was to restrict $600,000 in general fund dollars last September to increase the school district’s bonding capacity. Part of the process to move forward with building a new high school was hearing presentations from six architects about possible phased-construction approaches that are within a $30 million budget. On Monday night, the board voted to hire RossTarrant Architects by a 4 to 1 margin, with board member Sherri Springate voting no. Before Dani Bradley’s motion to hire RossTarrant, she told other board members, “I appreciated the forward thinking and acknowledgment of what the community wants. And I also felt like their presentation and style lends itself to community input very well.” WCHS senior Ryan Alvey, the board’s student representative, said he was impressed by RossTarrant’s “modern solutions” and innovative techniques for different classroom types. Springate’s motion to hire Tate Hill Jacobs Architects, the district’s architect for the last few years, died for a lack of a second. She noted its Frederick Douglass High School – one of several schools she and Wilson toured – has innovative use of classroom spaces while also being energy efficient. Having not worked with any of the other architectural firms, schools Superintendent Scott Hawkins said the level of service the district received from Margie Jacobs, of Tate Hill Jacobs, “has been outstanding.” That level of service has occurred no matter the size or cost of a project, he said. Prior to the vote to hire RossTarrant, board members agreed that all four of the architectural firms being considered were very qualified, with strong reputations and successful school projects. And those firms also have experience in phased construction projects, said Bradley. “Should that be the path that we end up on,” she added, “we have the knowledge that any one of them has done that before.” “I don’t think we’re going to lose with any that we pick,” said board member Allison Richardson later. “I think they’re all obviously qualified and passionate about what they do. For myself, I’m excited to (make a selection) … tonight and to move our focus … move forward with everything else.” WCHS cooling tower The board approved a project application seeking state approval to replace the cooling tower at Woodford County High School at a total probable cost of $66,045. The tower cools the school building. Sheriff letter A second letter to the Woodford County Sheriff requesting an itemized list of the costs to collect property taxes for the school district needs further review by the board attorney, board members were told.