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Board approves $11 million school facilities plan

The Clark County Board of Education voted unanimously Monday night to approve an $11 million school building construction plan that has as its top priorities a new home for the Clark County Preschool and the Phoenix Academy.

The 5-0 decision by the board followed a unanimous recommendation Sept. 24 by the Local Planning Committee.

A final public hearing was scheduled for 5:30 p.m. Wednesday to get school district residents’ input and a report that will come back to the local school board at its next meeting.

The plan then goes to the state Department of Education for its consideration, then to the Kentucky Board of Education, which will meet in December.

If the state approves the plan, the local board will probably vote on the first buildings and grounds document, or BG-1, in February.

“They’ve already told us they will … sign off on it,” Donald Stump, the Clark County School District’s physical plant director, said Tuesday, but formal approval is still required.

Stump said it was not required that all committee members attend the hearing Wednesday because they aren’t allowed to respond to public comments.

During the meeting Monday, Board Member Gordon Parido said he thought the board should be involved in a greater discussion of the facilities plan. 

“I feel like what you’re doing is you’re taking the voice away from the individuals that were elected to make the decisions for the educational future of the students in Clark County,” he said.

Although the old Hannah McClure School is inadequate for the preschool’s needs, he said, he wasn’t convinced that a new building should be the board’s first priority. He raised the question of whether the preschool could instead move into an existing building.

Board Member Scott Hisle disagreed.

“Every year that we put it off is hurting those children, and I would like the opportunity to move forward on this next critical plan,” especially making the preschool the priority, he said.

During the public comment period at the beginning of the board meeting, parents and a teacher advocated for the proposal.

Board Member Sherry Richardson asked whether, if the board approved the plan, it could later be changed. Architect Randy Brookshire answered that there would be an opportunity to amend it later.

Board Chair Ashley Ritchie, who also chaired the Local Planning Committee, said the committee members had discussed the options at length and were in agreement about the direction the district needed to go. 

“We were shut down, brought back together, and it still managed to pass unanimously,” she said.

Board Member William Taulbee made the motion, which was seconded by Hisle, to approve the plan, and were joined by Ritchie, Parido and Sherry Richardson in voting for it.

According to Stump, the school district’s bonding capacity is currently $15 million, but because of low interest rates, he and other local officials believe it will be $17 million by next summer.

That should be more than enough money to pay for the plan, he said.

The four-year plan includes in its 2020-22 first biennium, a plan for construction a new preschool, on a site to be determined, to serve 350 to 450 students at a cost of just under $9.3 million, and a new Phoenix Academy alternative school on the campus of George Rogers Clark High School to accommodate 60 to 90 students at an estimated cost of $1.8 million.

Priorities for the second phase, in the 2022-24 biennium, include major renovation or additions to Campbell Junior High School, Baker Intermediate School and Conkwright, Strode Station and Shearer Elementary Schools.