By: Jeremy D. Wells
Carter County Times
When the Carter County School District released information on the site chosen for the construction of a new vocational facility – and potentially a new consolidated high school as well – they didn’t release a map or other specifics on the location. They said it was located on property sited between US 60 and I-64, halfway between Grayson and Olive Hill, but beyond that they didn’t provide any details.
The reason for this, though, isn’t because they are seeking to avoid transparency, superintendent Dr. Paul Green told the Times last week. Instead it’s because the district is bound by Kentucky Department of Education restrictions that prevent them from releasing that information until the process is complete.
“The Kentucky Department of Education is really rigid on the process for schools, for site selection,” Green explained.
He said it isn’t the same where, as a private citizen, you can go out and make an offer of purchase on a property and openly discuss all aspects of it.
“There’s a lot of steps,” he said. “When we first started this process last April, a year ago, we went to the center of the county and we looked at every property that had enough property in a tract that would allow us to build a new facility.”
He explained that this was the area identified as the most fair through their listening sessions and the facility planning meetings hosted throughout the county.
Throughout that process, he said, it became, “very clear that most favored a location that would be as close to the geographical center of the county as we could make it. So, we really looked in that area”
“We identified every site that met the direct criteria,” he continued. “We started out with a list of nine. We approached several different property owners. We had several that declined. We then narrowed that to a list of five. We had the Kentucky Department of Education come in, and they did an initial site review of those five sites. A couple of those were immediately ruled out due to environmental issues.”
So, he said, from there they narrowed it down to three, eventually going with the one in the middle.
“We narrowed it down to three, two of which were pretty significantly considered,” Green said. “We had conversations with landowners. We actually had some preliminary work done, or preliminary investigative work, around the sites to see the costs and that type of thing. Ultimately, we narrowed the focus to one site.”
But, he continued, “you have to do that process because then there’s a lot more studies that have to take place around the site.”
For the past several months, he said, they’ve “been conducting studies, geotech surveys, topographical surveys, (and) environmental transportation studies” at the site.
But they can’t reveal the exact location just yet – even though overhead photos of the presumed site have been circulating on social media.
“We are still trying to get final approval from KDE in order to purchase the site,” Green said. “And until that approval is granted or given to us, we can’t release that information. Because we don’t own the property and it’s not ours to divulge.”
But, he said, “it is the geographic center, or as close to the geographic center of the county as you can get.”
While one of the concerns from some corners has been about the additional travel time, Green said it’s important to remember that elementary and middle school kids will not be impacted at all. Some high school age children will have slightly longer times on the bus, but for some the time on the bus will be shorter. Those who will have longer commutes, he said, will be on the bus for no more than an extra 10 or 15 minutes.
“If you’re travelling US 60, the entrance of this school will be within tenths of a mile from being halfway between those two high schools. So, we’re looking at about six to seven miles between both facilities to the entrance to the new facility. So… if you’re talking 40 miles per hour, safe speeds on a bus… no kid would have more than ten minutes extra in transportation,” Green said.
“On the other hand, we’re going to have a lot of kids that are going to have shorter bus rides,” he added.
All of this, though, is presuming they move forward with building a consolidated high school. It’s a move Green said he’d support, especially as a way to preserve programs as the school population continues to shrink. But there are still several steps to complete before a final decision is made.
“Now that we have an architect in play, we already have scheduled on May 1, we will have our first public forum for design and programmatic ideation,” Green said.
“We are going to design a new high school, a new career tech center, and all the amenities,” Green said.
“Since I’ve been here and been superintendent, I’ve tried to be as transparent as I could about this,” he continued. “My goal is to have it designed; here it is. Once we have it designed, then the final decisions will be made about what’s being constructed.”
That could be a joint high school and career tech center, or it could be a stand alone career tech center.
“I will say that there is a good chance that if we can do everything we want to do, I will support the construction of a new high school. And I do that because I understand our budget constraints,” Green said. “We have 11 campuses currently. We have lost over 1300 students in Carter County since 2000… (and) now that we’re projected next year to be funded on less than 3,600 (students)… that’s unsustainable with 11 campuses. So we’ve got to look at how can we cut costs; and by putting kids into an energy efficient building and closing three older buildings, just the energy savings alone is a tremendous impact on our budget that will allow us to offer more programs, more things, and sustain this district for a long time.”
Right now, he said, they’re already cutting programs because of the budget issues.
“We’re losing programs right now, and we will continue to lose programs,” he said. “What (consolidation) would allow us to do is add back programs, or, at (least) stop the cutting of the programs because of all the money we’re saving.”
“It’s just the reality that, as you shrink in terms of student population, you’re forced to do some things (like cut programs). Now, on the other side of this, we have an opportunity to build a state of the art, wonderful facility. That’s what we want to make sure we get the public input on. What do we want? What do we want the aesthetic of the building to look like? What type of design? What type of architectural structure? What programs do we want to offer?”
“We have an opportunity to do things,” he continued. “We can do marching band and we can have drama, and all these different programs.”
“Then, when we get into our career tech center, we get to design what programs do we want to add to that,” he said. “Do we need plumbing? Electricity? Auto mechanics? Do we want to look at other programs that we can add to this? So, that to me is very exciting.”
He said they could also look at expanding career tech programs out to students earlier, allowing them to begin exploring trades they might like to focus on at an earlier age.
But, Green said, he understood the parental concerns, and that with rising costs the money available for construction might not go as far as they once hoped. If it turns out they can’t add all the amenities they already enjoy at the other campuses, he wouldn’t support plans to consolidate anymore either, he said.
If, he noted, after driving the extra ten minutes, kids from the western end then had to drive into Grayson to access baseball fields for practice, or kids from the east end had to go to the old West campus for basketball or volleyball practice, that wouldn’t be a positive experience for the children. It would take opportunities away instead of providing then. If that was going to be the case, he said, then the county should focus on a new career tech center alone. But he doesn’t currently feel that is the case.
He also wants the county to know the board has been as transparent as they are legally allowed to be.
“I’ve tried very hard (to be transparent),” Green said. “It bothers me for people to think that we’re not being transparent, when (they’re focusing on) elements of this that we can’t be.”
“Until we own the property, until we’ve signed the deeds, it’s very difficult for us to say a lot publicly about that property,” he explained. “Once we have that property, and it is our property, then we immediately plan to put out the maps, all the locations, and all the details about that property. But it’s not ours. So, it’s not ours to do that with yet.”
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