The final design of a dramatic $10.8 million overhaul to Corbin High School was approved by the school district’s Board of Education last week, but not without voices of descent mixed in with general support of the project.
If approved by state education officials, the project would expand the high school by 40,415 square feet through the construction of two additions – a two-story math and science wing at what is now the front of the school and a multi-level combination of administrative offices, lobbies, band and choral practice rooms in the rear. It would add seven standard classrooms, one resource room, two science labs, two science classrooms, a new band room, a vocal music room and administrative addition.
The overhaul would massively change the appearance and functionality of the school. Planners expect construction to begin in September and finish in September 2010.
In February, the Board of Education voted unanimously to go ahead with the project, even thought it would take up the district’s entire bonding capacity for the foreseeable future.
At a public forum to discuss the school district’s facility plan, held in advance of last Thursday regular board meeting, renovations to the school received words of support from faculty members at the school, as well as others from the community.
Lt. Col. Rick McClure, Corbin High’s JROTC instructor and French teacher, said he’s been forced to house JROTC equipment in his home basement for the past 14 years due to lack of space.
"I’m really looking forward to this renovation because the army is ready to put my program on probation because we do not have an adequate amount of space," McClure told the board.
McClure also noted that Corbin High School also is lacking in security because there are too many unmonitored entrances and exits.
Jill Lewis, also a teacher at the school, said her classroom is "way below" state minimum requirements for the number of students she has, and also said her journalism students use a closet that has been converted into a computer room.
"I have three outlets [in my room] and run most of my equipment on three or four power strips," she said. "Nothing is set up for us to use today’s technology. We need the wiring, technology and space to prepare our students for the next generation."
Former Board Member Henry Martin was critical of the plan, though, saying it was too costly and would be too heavy of a burden on taxpayers. He favored a less costly, more modest $7.79 million proposal that would have added about 29,015 of usable space to the school.
"I hoped we had everything covered in that first $7 million, and then did we add another $3.8 million on to that?" Martin said. "We are right there at the no return point."
Martin said the project would bump the amount of money the school district would have to pay to debt service each year to $1,850,000. This biennium, the state has pledged $1.4 million in funding for school facilities. He questioned whether the state would perhaps cut that funding in the future, forcing local taxpayers holding the bag.
"Every person that owns real estate is liable for that bond debt," Martin said.
Board Member Kim Croley said the original plan was cheaper, but during revisions officials noticed other needs that could be addressed, so added to it.
"How did we miss [those needs] the first time around?" Martin asked. "Didn’t have time to do it or what caused it?"
Board Chair Debbie Cook said it wasn’t a case of school officials not knowing what teachers and students needed, but rather what could be done with the money available.
"We are about to have an impression that we had needs that we did not know of. We’ve known about these need all along," Cook said. "We took what we thought we had, the amount of money, we looked at what we could do with it and actually we decided we could to a little bit more, so we picked up some additional things that we thought we couldn’t afford."
Betty Sue Surmont also spoke out against the more expensive high school plan saying that the economy was not healthy enough to proceed. She said she’s seen five businesses in a one-mile stretch from Scuffletown Road to Main Street close recently.
"At this time I feel like somewhere you need to go back to the board and cut and cut and cut or put it off," she said. "Please go back and think this over."
Superintendent Ed McNeel closed the public forum by defending the plan, saying that the high school is projected to have about 900 students when kids in grades Kindergarten through third are of age.
"The money being used to build the Corbin High School planned project are the taxes that have been collected and are going to be collected whether you build that high school or not. Your taxes are not changing because of the high school project," McNeel said. "I just wish we had the funds to do more."
During the regular meeting, the board heard an update on the plans from Kevin Cheek, Project Manager from Sherman-Carter-Barnhart. Following the presentation, they authorized that the plans be submitted to the Kentucky Department of Education for final approval.