Efforts by the Harlan County School District to replace Wallins elementary with a new facility received a boost when the board of education submitted plans that put that project at the top of its list of needs.
For much of the past year, the board of education has been waiting on a state-mandated process to work out so that local and state leaders are aware of and willing to support construction of new and renovated elementary schools in Harlan County.
Before any building plan is approved and funded, schools must create a local facility committee to identify needs and develop a plan for their district. That plan is submitted to the state which evaluates the work and provides comments.
That plan is then returned to the committee for approval or changes before being submitted to the school board for changes or approval. Any changes along this process must go back to the state for approval. Once the final round of changes are done and everyone signs off on their approval, the school board then sends the report back to the state as their final plan.
Sporting a hefty price tag of an estimated $71 million in identified building needs – over $65 million of which are on the list for funding during the current legislative biennium – the local school board is heading down a road with a map they have used before.
“It’s almost a duplicate of the 2011 plan,” said Gary Farmer, the board’s chairman, during a recent special meeting.
The major differences, he said, were the removal of the high school and its related projects as well as other projects that have been done since.
The vast majority of the money for buildings in the county school district over the past 10 years has gone into the construction of Harlan County High School, whose costs ballooned from early estimates as the board delayed action due to significant local opposition to consolidation.
The current plan calls for a new building at Wallins, estimated to cost $12.65 million. Though a new site for this facility has been discussed, the location has not been officially or legally settled and was not included on the plan.
The most expensive item on the facility “wish list” for funding from the state, estimated at over $20 million, was a major renovation and systems replacement for James A. Cawood Elementary to address a host of functional alterations, safety improvement and appearance upgrades for the building that was originally constructed as a high school that opened in 1966.
The state facility evaluation for JACES may create some difficulty in funding any major work at this school simply because the costs appear to exceed the limit of 80 percent of the cost to replace it with a new building, which the state assumes could be done for about $9.1 million.
Other schools on the high priority list include:
• Cawood, $3.6 million;
• Cumberland, $5.1 million;
• Evarts, $7.5 million;
• Green Hills, $7.8 million; and
• Rosspoint, $5 million.
An additional $3.8 million was requested in the plan to address needs with the central administration building, the bus garage and the maintenance building.
The document also includes construction projects deemed to be “discretionary” and not included as part of the district’s assessment of their facility needs. That list includes nearly $19 million in projects for every elementary school except Green Hills and Wallins. It also includes the construction of a technology center at the high school.
The final list includes roofing projects for Cawood and Cumberland that would not be funded until after the 2018 biennium.
During its special meeting the board also:
• Approved payment of claims totaling $751,661.64;
• Approved the monthly financial report;
• Approved an offer of assistance in the amount of $86,906 from the School Facilities Construction Commission;
• Approved a food service request to offer one-year bid extensions;
• Approved the 2016-2017 nutrition/physical report card;
• Approved the “chef in schools grant;”
• Approved bids for holding cabinets for food services
• Approved a Black Mountain elementary eighth-grade trip to Pigeon Forge;
• Approved a contract with Aramark for uniforms for maintenance, transportation and technology departments;
• Approved the Delta Dental “Making Smiles Happen” arts in education Initiative
• Approved the purchase of start-up soccer equipment for $18,198.88;
• Set the 2016 board of education meeting schedule to be the third Thursday of the month;
• Elected Gary Farmer as chairman and Wallace Napier as vice-chairman;
• Approved a policy conferring honorary diplomas to local residents;
• Rescinded a board policy regarding preschool as it did not apply to the local situation;
• Held a 32-minute executive session to discuss pending litigation regarding settlement of a workers compensation claim.