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Plans unveiled for new high school

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By Geoff Hamill

 

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Monday was quite a day for the Washington County School District. After officially closing the purchase of land for a new high school earlier in the day, the school board also approved a schematic design for the new school later that evening at its regular monthly meeting.

Leonard Bowers, principal in charge with Ross Tarrant Architects of Lexington, presented the schematic designs to the board for its review.
“I’m coming tonight to ask you to approve our schematic design concept. This is a work in progress, and it will continue to evolve as we move forward,” Bowers told the board. “The KDE (Kentucky Department of Education) wants a site floor plan concept. The exterior, however, we’re not asking you to approve that tonight. We will continue to work on that and bring some things back to the board, but we wanted to let you see where we are at this point.”
The board did vote unanimously to approve the schematic design. Bowers later went on to explain a bit about the process that will lead up to the construction of the new school.
“The next step is design development, taking this concept and beginning to develop it and meet with the various departments at the high school,” Bowers said. He added that his firm has already done this once to get what he called a wish list for the departments, such as science, math, English, and others, to get their input on their needs in the new school. From there, he said others will be involved, including the energy manager for the school district to determine the types of systems to be used for sustainability.
“We’ll be working more on the exterior concept as it goes along,” he added. “We now plan to come back to the board for approval of the design development at their November board meeting, and everything’s pretty much set in stone at that point.”
Bowers said he hopes to get drawings out for contractors to bid on, which could take a couple of months.
“We hope to put it out for bid by the end of March and try to bid the project in April. Because the district has an adequate amount of cash they are putting into the project, we hope to award the bid and start construction in May of next year,” he explained.
Representatives from Ross Tarrant, as well as local school board members and administrators have toured other schools during the planning process, but Bowers said those tours did not provide any of the features that will be seen in the new Washington County High School.
“We don’t like to pull plans from other schools. We think every school should have its own identity and be suited for the people who are going to utilize it,” Bowers said.
Bowers said the new school will feature approximately 95,000 square feet, and the first phase of the campus will feature the new building with classrooms, a gymnasium and cafeteria.
“I’m really pleased with the schematic design. There will be a lot of glass on both ends, which is very nice, and with the increased space and everything involved, it really looks impressive,” Washington County High School Principal Paul Terrell said.
Cochran added that the district is pleased with the progress being made.
“The Washington County School District is thrilled to see the schematic designs in detail,” she said. “We have worked for at least six months on trying to develop a footprint that meets our needs, but is also pleasing to the public. We want our community and visitors to say, ‘Wow’ whenthey see our building.”
She added that the building committee members realize the importance of their service, and take their duties very seriously.
“They realize that this could be a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for them to be a part of designing WCHS – a structure that will be here for another 50 years!  The design of the inside of the building is very important and we are making every attempt to be futuristic and forward in our thinking.”
Cochran concluded by saying she and the board appreciate the community and its support of the new school project.
“We know that we are asking a great deal of the community in terms of financial support with the taxes and so forth, but overwhelmingly, the consensus has been that we need a new high school in order to advance Washington County,” she said.
The school and educational facilities will be the first priority, and other items, such as athletic facilities are on the current plan, but will likely be added at a later date. Terrell said he expects those facilities to come within a couple of years.
“I think it’s a bonding question and a money issue on how much we can raise,” Terrell said.
In addition to facilities such as baseball, softball and football fields, a track and tennis courts, the design for the school site also allows for expansion, with additional classrooms, as well as an auditorium and more, according to Bowers.
“The auditorium, choral and drama areas would come at a later phase on down the way. The future classrooms are just in thinking of future expansion. The KDE always likes for us to think about how a building is going to expand in the future, and even our cafeteria will be designed where we can expand that if we need to and growth comes along,” Bowers said.
The price tag for the first phase of the new school will be about $20.5 million, according to Bowers. He said the school district currently has more than $17 million in its bonding capacity, and added that the number should climb to more than $20 million after bonds are sold in July 2012. He also said the school district’s decision to take the extra “nickel tax” has provided additional funding, and that will allow the district to do work on other facilities across the district as needed. In addition, he said that funding will eventually help fund the athletic facilities at the new school, as well.
“On the facilities, the board will have to decide that. As always, it’s a big desire for the community, and I hope we get really good bids,” Bowers said. “If so, we’re thinking of going ahead and doing the grading on the rest of the site for those future facilities, which would be cheaper for us to do all the grading at one time. Then, once the basic grading is done, you just come back in and put in the lights, bleachers, and the final turf, etc., when you are ready to finish those facilities.”
Bowers concluded that the plans currently have the school district on its pace to open the new school for the 2014-15 school year.
“That’s our goal, and now that we have the property, we are moving forward,” he said. “I’m not anticipating anything that’s going to keep us from that goal.”