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County balks at $12M in school projects
Commissioners ask if all upgrades are needed
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Warren County commissioners are expressing concern for the $12.1 million price tag on capital building projects proposed by the Board of Education.
“The only problem I have with this is when we issued the last bond we said we were going to have the buildings in pretty good shape for several years,” said Commissioner Terry Bell. “Now we need $12 million. All this stuff needs done. I’m not questioning that. However, if you talk to me about chickens, I’m going to tell you I need a four-wheel drive and the biggest and best they’ve got. Education has a lot of questions right now in front of it. With our president, I’m afraid you’ll even see federal cuts coming down. Are you going to lay off teachers, or are you going to ask the county for the money to fund that?”
Bell’s apprehension came during the county Education Committee meeting Monday to review the proposed improvements to West Elementary, Bobby Ray, Eastside and Warren County Middle.
Director of Schools Bobby Cox presented the total estimates: Bobby Ray $3.2 million, West Elementary $1.8 million, Eastside $2.3 million, and WCMS $4.5 million.
To Bell’s question, Cox said, “I think we would want to fund the program that we feel is best for our community.”
“I know,” said Bell. “If we have to do that, buildings may be where you have to cut back if you want to keep your programs going.”
Commissioner Carlene Brown asked about prioritizing school needs.
Cox said, “These are all, pretty much, priority of what they really need.”
“Twelve million dollars of priorities?” asked Brown. “That’s a large number but in the big picture it’s really not.”
Cox said, “I know $12 million is a big number, but we are looking at four schools. I know we are a long way away from making any commitments, but hopefully we can start the conversation and work a plan to get this done over a period of years. Obviously, it’s not something we can waive a wand and make it happen. We used a similar process with all the other schools Irving College, Dibrell, Centertown.”
West and Bobby Ray are at the top of the list when the schools are prioritized.
“We would like to prioritize West and Bobby Ray,” said Cox. “Those are the two buildings we feel need the most attention. West is more than 50 years old. We are seeing some electrical issues there. Bobby Ray and West, when we talk about electrical, we are running out of power. We have so much technology but we can’t plug things up. Those buildings weren’t built for computer labs and projectors and things of that type. There are a lot of cosmetic needs in both of those schools. Both schools need to be updated.”
Commissioner Diane Starkey asked if any of the funds will come from the school system’s budget, but Cox hesitated to commit school funds toward the projects at this time.
“I wouldn’t want to sit here and commit by saying ‘we can do this’ before we get some hard numbers,” said Cox. “Right now, all we have are estimates. It could be the actual numbers go from $12 million to $15 million or $20 million. We’re just basing it on the best figures we have right now. It could do down to $10 million. I just don’t know.”
Committee members agreed to tour the buildings. Tours of Bobby Ray and West will take place March 13 at 6:30 p.m. Eastside and the Middle School tours will begin March 16 at 6:30 p.m. All commissioners will be invited to attend.