During a workshop session Monday at Volunteer High School, the Board of Education tossed out the idea of buying property between McPheeters Bend Elementary and Keplar Elementary and building a new school to serve both student populations.
BOE Chairman Bob Larkins was quick to point out this isn’t a plan or a proposal. It’s just an idea for discussion, and a lot of information needs to be gathered before it can be seriously considered.
When closing Keplar and McPheeters Bend was first discussed in 2015, it was estimated to save $5 million in five years if both schools were shut down.
Even if the BOE repaired both schools, the system would be left with two old schools that aren’t set up for the needs of modern education.
Community opposition to closing schools
Both communities have been adamantly opposed to closing their schools.
The student population has declined to less than 100 at both. Declining enrollment means fewer state dollars because the BEP doesn’t provide funding to pay principals at schools with fewer than 100 students.
But those small classrooms and their dedicated teachers have also helped Keplar and McPheeters Bend become among the highest scoring and most celebrated for academic achievement — not just in the county and region, but in the state.
Putting a new school in the middle
In March, a structural engineer estimated that building a new Keplar school on the existing property would cost $3.5 million.
The cost of the land for a new school would be a wild card, but Maintenance Director Shannon Glass suggested that a new school building to serve students at both schools might be 1.5 times the cost of the new Keplar estimate, or around $5.25 million.
Larkins joked that real estate values in the Goshen Valley community, where the new school would likely be situated, would probably double when news of Monday’s discussion became public.
What’s the cheapest option?
The least expensive option is to close both schools and bus those children, either from McPheeters Bend to Church Hill Elementary or Intermediate or from Keplar to Joseph Rogers Primary or Hawkins Elementary.
But the added time on a school bus is what has many parents in both communities most concerned.
Each official who attended Monday’s workshop was asked to weigh in on the idea of building a new school to serve the McPheeters Bend and Keplar communities.
BOE Chairman Bob Larkins
“This project at Keplar could rise to a million dollars easily, and that’s about a quarter of what it would cost to build a new school. And we would still have a 70-year-old school building and still have McPheeters Bend with a metal gymnasium that’s inferior.”
Maintenance Director Shannon Glass
“It’s hard to dump money into an old building when you’ve still got an old building. Even if you repair a building, you still have water lines, sewer lines, everything that you can’t see.”
Interim Director Reba Bailey
“Basically what this comes back to, to me, is our county commission willing to help us fund what we need to do to keep our buildings updated.”
Board member Kathy Cradic
“We know it’s a substantial cost to repair these two buildings, but we don’t have an idea of what it will cost to build or purchase land.”
Board member Chris Christian
“I’d like to see a cost analysis. I want to see projected (student population) growth, and I want to see what kind of (cost) numbers were looking at in constructing a new school.”
Board member Jackie Charles
“(The engineer) said it was going to cost half as much to repair than it would to build a new school. That’s a no-brainer to me. We’re over the life expectancy of the building. We just have to get our comparisons and numbers and start answering the hard questions.”
Middle School Supervisor Beth Holt
“Those buildings were built when you had one classroom for everybody all day long. Now we’ve got RTI, we need small group rooms, we need a media center, we need lots of places for kids to do hands-on activities. To fix an old building and still have the same old building is not giving our kids the best we can give them. I can’t see putting money into something and still having the same thing we had 50 years ago.”
High School Supervisor Wes Smith
“My initial thought is the question, how do you zone the new school if you build between Keplar and McPheeters Bend? Because currently those two schools feed opposite ends of the county. Do you zone them for this (Church Hill) end, do you zone them for the other end, or do you have a scenario where some students in the same class are zoned for the east end and some for the west end.?”