• Bob Vlach, Woodford Sun Staff

Large turnout for public meeting on a new high school

Parents, teachers, leaders and others in the community gave their input on how the Woodford County Board of Education should move forward with their planning to build a new high school during a public meeting June 6. During breakout sessions at tables in the Woodford County Middle School cafeteria, county Magistrate Liles Taylor wondered if a new high school moves forward as a phased construction project “is it going to be adequate for the initial group of students? That’s the elephant in the room,” he said. With a budget of about $35 million, the school board and its architect, RossTarrant Architects, have talked about lowering the cost of building a new Woodford County High School by reducing square-footage and eliminating computer labs that are no longer used by students with portable Chromebooks. The idea of teachers changing classrooms instead of students has also been discussed. That option troubled WCHS English teacher Elizabeth Gibson. She told those seated at her table, “My classroom is an extension of me as a teacher.” She said it’s also her students’ “safe place.” During conversations with its architects, the board was told how the cost of materials, including various flooring options, will increase or decrease construction costs. Citing a need to use high-quality materials, parent Maria Bohanan told those at her table, “I want to make sure this school starts with good bones.” The importance of quality was supported by others at another table, with one participant saying, “Why would we want to skimp on a facility for our future leaders?” During a conversation at another table, Ron Murrell, of RossTarrant Architects, described having a master plan for a new high school as critical, and that “phased construction is very typical.” He cited Frederick Douglass High School as an exception when it comes to constructing a high school and all of its related facilities at once. In his opening remarks, Kevin Locke, also of RossTarrant Architects, told those at the meeting that the school board has stressed the importance of community involvement and transparency moving forward. He said a website –newwoodfordhs.com – was created so interested residents can ask questions or take a survey to provide input to the board as a master plan is being developed for a new Woodford County High School. That process of providing input occurred at last Thursday’s meeting when attendees used their cell phones to answer questions, including their biggest concern about a high school. Among the answers to that question: safety, cost, phasing and doing it halfway. Three responses relate to the challenges faced by the board moving forward with building a 1,400-student high school with a preliminary budget of $35 million. Pride was a very popular answer to a question about the biggest opportunity for a new high school. Safety, growth and science labs were other responses to that question. As a community representative on the committee collecting information for the Woodford County Board of Education, Versailles Mayor Brian Traugott told those attending the meeting that it’s “really hard” to separate his official duties with those of being a parent, taxpayer and concerned citizen. “Because a quality school is crucial to attracting good people to live here; and when you attract people who choose to live here because of the quality of the school,” he said, “you attract people who really contribute to the social capital of this community.” Traugott said businesses are also attracted to communities that value education, which lays a foundation for a quality workforce. He noted WCHS was ranked as the 12th best high school in Kentucky by U. S. News and World Report, and “to get on a touchy subject” pointed out that Woodford County Public Schools has a lower property tax rate (68.2 cents per $100 of assessed value) than all but one of the districts ranked higher. A proposed nickel facility tax to pay for a new high school was opposed by a majority of Woodford County’s voters during a special election last June. Without that additional funding, the board began exploring its options for building a new high school as phased construction project for less than $40 million. Cost estimates of a new high school have ranged from $46 million to $50 million.

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