Wise school board to begin hashing out renovation plan

Stephen Igo • Mar 14, 2007 at 12:45 PM

WISE - The Wise County School Board will get an early start on plotting its next moves regarding the future of the county's six high schools. During Monday's meeting, the board set an 8 a.m. workshop session on Friday for deliberations of the issue.

Last month the four architectural and engineering firms hired to assess the conditions of the facilities and recommend improvements and preliminary designs presented the results of their studies of the six high schools along with a preliminary total cost estimate of $109.5 million.

On Monday, board members and School Superintendent Greg Killough emphasized that the recommendations presented by the architects Feb. 27 were only a starting point, and now the school board's work truly begins on deciding on a final plan to present to the county Board of Supervisors.

Sticker shock of the initial proposals contributed to a recent strain between the two boards, with most supervisors dismissing the total $109.5 million package as unaffordable and dead on arrival. School board members on Monday reminded that the high school renovations package hasn't even arrived yet because last April supervisors approved a resolution asking the school board to present a plan by May of this year.

Most school board members on Monday also took the opportunity to berate the Board of Supervisors for daring to complain about getting what supervisors asked for in last year's resolution. Killough said supervisors wanted a full and comprehensive assessment of needs at each of the high schools, a scope noted by the school division's administration and school board and provided to the four firms hired to complete the individual studies of each school.

School board member Betty Cornett also said supervisors have, in recent days, advised the school board the county could afford to finance a $60 million renovations debt without raising property taxes, something Cornett said would have been nice to know last year when the four firms were hired.

In any event, the four firms presented recommendations that would provide a thorough makeover at each school.

The extensive renovations and recommended new additions would not merely make a huge difference in the appearance of the 1950s-style facilities - except St. Paul High School, an early 1970s model that requires fewer renovations than the other five by far - but bring them up to modern standards in every respect, including structural, safety and disabilities code requirements and the ability to meet current and future academic needs.

However, potential cuts to the recommendations to be considered by the school board beginning Friday places the architectural vision for each school in jeopardy. No matter the final plan for renovations to the six facilities, costs for just the basics - plumbing, electrical, HVAC, roofs, windows - will require a significant investment.

In other matters Monday unrelated to the high schools issue, the school board also approved a revised schedule for the remainder of the current school year and adopted a school calendar for 2007-08.

Because of snow days, the last day of school for students is now Thursday, May 31. If winter has one more surprise in store, another snow day (or two) would push the final day for students to June 1, a Friday, or to June 2, a Saturday. Otherwise, students can count on summer freedom after May 31. Teachers have two workdays scheduled for June 1 and June 2.

Based on input from students, teachers and parents, school administrators presented to the school board on Monday two calendar options for 2007-08. The preferred option by staff, students and parents was chosen by the board on a unanimous vote.

The 2007-08 school year for students will begin Aug. 9. The preceding week will be sprinkled with teacher preparation sessions, including orientation for new teachers on Aug. 3, and in-service training for all teachers on Aug. 7.

The school year will begin on a heat schedule from Aug. 9-31, with classes beginning at 8 a.m. and schools scheduled to let out at 1:30 p.m. each day through the period. The school board typically reassesses the need for a heat schedule toward the end of August to consider extending the weather-adjusted instructional times. The final day of school for 2008 is May 19, generally a moving target as a result of snow days every school year.

Teachers are assigned 187 instructional days in 2007-08, three workdays when school is not in session, and 10 in-service/workdays to be assigned, with those items to require approval by their various principals, for 200 workdays.

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