Miranda H. Lewis
Carter County Times
The Carter County Board of Education held a public forum on Monday to form a strategic plan for the potential new school.
In addition to the possible consolidation of East and West Carter High Schools, the structure will also house a new Carter County Career and Technical Center and amenities.
“Starting back a year and a half ago, the Carter County Schools were fortunate enough to receive a couple of different pretty significant funding sources that is really moving this project forward,” said Superintendent Paul Green alluding to a $27 million SFCC grant awarded to Carter County.
Initially those funds were earmarked for the construction of a new Carter County Career and Technical Center and for the construction or renovation of East Carter High School facilities. No funds were allocated to West Carter High School.
Last year, however, the Carter County Local Facility Planning Committee met multiple times to review the District Facility Plan. During that time the group agreed that the best use of the state and federal grants would be to consider potential construction for a new central high school as well as a career and technical center.
After the planning committee revised the District Facility Plan, the board entered a site selection process.
Green said that despite claims that the board has secured a location, the site selection process is “ongoing” as it is a “long process”.
He said the board started in the center of the county, investigating ten properties that were more than 100 acres. The Kentucky Department of Education (KDE) reviewed five potential properties and further narrowed the list to three. He explained that Cost Analysis Studies shortened the list to two potential sites and from there one property has become the focus.
“We are still going through the process of having that property approved by the KDE. There’s a lot that goes into it and until we get that final approval, we cannot say that this is where our potential new school will be built,” he said. “We are hopeful that will happen within the next few weeks and an official announcement can be made.”
In February, the Board of Education moved forward with the selection of architecture firm RossTarrant and construction management at risk Trace Creek Construction.
The board is currently in its discovery phase on this project with a goal to begin the design phase after exploring the best options for a district-wide plan.
“This step tonight is the absolute first process of what a potential new high school could look like,” Green said.
While Green said he’d love to say the district could have everything proposed, that’s unlikely. At the very least, though, he wants the schools to have everything they currently have plus a lot more.
“We have to narrow our focus,” he said. “If we can have three new things, what are those three things? If we can have five new things, what are those five things? What is it that we want?”
Moving forward, Green said the next step is the completion of the property purchase.
“We are on track to get that done this month, but until we do that, we are still in the site selection process,” he stated.
Once the property purchase is complete, the planning process timeline is as follows: initial design process – shared with the public, site development begins, plan iterations and revisions, branding (school name/mascot/colors/etc.), and final plans approved – after community input.
If all goes according to plan, construction is projected to begin within the next year.
Green said that potentially, if a new school is opened and everything goes smoothly, that students currently in grades 5-8 would be the first classes in the new high school.
Nevertheless, Green reiterated that regardless of what is decided regarding the consolidation of East and West Carter High Schools, some sort of construction will take place.
“We are building something,” he remarked. “We have too much money (that has to be used for construction). Something is going to be constructed.”
Attendees at the forum circulated through three gallery rooms displaying potential aesthetic ideas, programs, and amenities.
Prospective programs included diesel mechanics, cyber security, cosmetology, law and justice, plumbing and pipefitting, HVAC, and more.
An auditorium, athletic fieldhouse, auxiliary gymnasium, outdoor classrooms, aquaponics lab, JROTC training course, E-Sports room, and others comprised potential amenities.
The public was invited to submit questions about the yet-to-be-constructed school during the walk through gallery as well as to share thoughts and ideas with the architects and members of the board and administration.
“The architects want input as to what you like, what features you like,” urged Green.
Those in attendance submitted their input via surveys accessed by scanning QR codes in each room. The results will later be consolidated to guide how design is implemented.
During the final section of the forum, attendees convened for a question and answer session with Dr. Green and representatives from RossTarrant and Trace Creek Construction.
Of the three questions raised, one common theme stuck out – enrollment.
Green said that the county has seen a reduction in student enrollment to the tune of 320 students in one year.
“Our district will operate in a deficit next year, there’s no way we will operate with a balanced budget next school year,” he said.
“When looking at trends traced back from 2000, we traditionally lose anywhere from 40-60 students per year as a district,” he added.
Green said although the district is losing enrollment that this is not a “Carter County thing” as Carter County itself is not losing census population. Decreases in student enrollment are taking place at both the National and State level, he reassured concerned attendees.
“Every rural community is losing students and there’s lots of factors involved,” he noted.
Green said that low birth rates have gradually led to the decline in school enrollment, an issue frequent in rural areas and that exacerbates the already limited funding that these schools receive.
“If you take our current classes right now, we are looking at 1,130 students currently enrolled, enrollment at a new school would be way less than 1,200,” he continued. “We are looking at 1,150 our first year of being open, if that were to be in three to four years, and that population would continue to decline as we move into the future unless there was some significant change.”
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