By: Jeremy D. Wells
Carter County Times
The Carter County School Board still hasn’t voted to move forward with consolidation plans and the building of a new school. They have, however, accepted recommendations and plans. Now they’re moving on to the next step in the process – site selection.
“After the LPC (local planning committee) approved the facility plan the board accepted that, so we then moved into a phase of finding site,” superintendent Dr. Paul Green explained. “We went closest to the geographic center as we could find.”
He said they started with an online tool that drops a pin in the geographic center of the county, then they went to the PVA for maps.
“We looked for properties that had more than 100 acres,” he said.
The school district identified five potential sites near the geographic center of the county. All five are located on parcels situated between the I-64 and US 60 corridors between Gregoryville and Pleasant Valley.
Though the district has requested that details of the particular sites not be released at this time, Green did reveal that one site has been rejected already. The old Thunder Mountain Raceway property, Green said, had been one site under consideration, but the state had already rejected that location, noting that site remediation would be too costly.
“When the transportation cabinet reviewed this they took Thunder Mountain off the list… because of environmental reasons. They had concerns about putting it there. The other four were approved to move forward.”
Two other sites – both at the furthest edges of the square drawn around the geographic center of the county – would probably only be considered if the sites closer to the center proved unsuitable for building.
Green said besides issues like drainage and accessibility, the district needed a tract with enough acreage to support the new high school, the vocational wing, and all sports fields. He said that’s one thing they determined from conversations with parents and in site committee meetings.
“It wouldn’t make sense to build this, then to bus them back out for football games, or softball games,” Green said.
They also need to evaluate the data they get from other site surveys.
“Once the board gets more information on the properties, then they can decide to move forward with one or more of these properties,” Green said. “Or they can expand the search and look at others. There’s nothing binding at this point, it’s just exploratory.”
Though the final decision still hasn’t been made, Green said, if the board does choose to go forward the earliest students could begin studies in the new school would be four years from now.
The school board, of course, will have approve the building of a new school much sooner. But, Green said, there are “still a lot of decisions to be made” before that point. First, he said, they would need to choose one or two of the sites and make an agreement to purchase if additional surveys showed the site was suitable.
“If those are positive, they may even choose one of these properties to enter into a contract with. It’s like a consent to purchase,” Green explained. “Because you have to do further testing, which costs more money. You would have to have some geotech work done, and that type of thing.”
That process is still a few months out, Green said.
“If at some point in time it works out that one of these sites is feasible, and that it does work and the board wants to accept that as the site, then once that site is been determined, the next phase would be going into design of the facility.”
“That would take some time, starting in the fall, and be several months of design. That design would include a new high school, a career tech center or career tech wing of the high school, and all the athletic facilities. All of that would be designed in that process.”
After that, he said, they would need to solicit cost estimates for that work.
“Then the board can decide, do they want to proceed with putting it out to bid as a whole project, or would phasing be necessary, or do we fall back and punt to some other version.”
It isn’t a decision that’s going to be made tomorrow though. Or anytime soon.
“We’re looking at next year before final decisions are made, in terms of where this is going.”
He said that while the final decision is yet to be made, “the perception is that if all these things fall in line, then yes, it’s going to happen.”
But the board still hasn’t made that decision, and can’t make that decision, Green said, until they have all this data in front of them.
Interest rates are up, he said, and building costs are not coming down. But if they proceed, he said, it’s been his advice all along that they build it all at once, rather than trying to finance it piecemeal.
“What I heard (from the community) is if we’re going to do this, we have to do it all. It makes no sense to build it without the career tech center. It makes no sense to build a high school without all the athletic facilities.”
Though they are still moving forward, he said, it’s a “time consuming project.”
“This is not something that we just snap our fingers. We’re still looking at – at the absolute earliest – would be next year, probably summer before you would ever begin any type of construction or earth moving. And because of the size and scope of this project I can’t imagine it would be done in less than three years.”
Because of that, he said, it would be at least four before any students would have classes in the new building. Even if they finish in the middle of a school year, he said, they wouldn’t want to begin classes until they started a new school year.
“Because it’s bringing two high schools together, you cannot do a mid-year opening. You’re going to have one start date, and it’s going to be August of the year, and if you miss that date this year, it’s going to be a whole other year before you get that chance again.”
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