Wise County high school personnel to review cuts in renovation plan

Stephen Igo • Mar 27, 2007 at 1:48 AM

WISE - Personnel at Wise County's six high schools will be asked to review cuts in major upgrades recommended for their various schools this week, but there won't be a lot of choice in the matter.

The Wise County School Board on Monday formally adopted a plan of action decided at a special workshop session nearly two weeks ago to make cuts to improvements recommended for each of the schools by the four architectural and engineering firms hired to assess high school facility needs. Total preliminary cost to make all upgrades as recommended by the architects and engineers is $109.5 million.

During the special workshop session, the board agreed to prioritize recommended renovation items to pare the projected total cost to $77 million, or by about a third. The board also agreed in principle to make the top priorities the most basic mechanical needs, such as windows, HVAC and electrical.

Not making the board's list of upgrade priorities were items like new additions and improvements and/or expansions to items like cafeterias, kitchens, gyms, locker rooms, auditoriums, roofs, ceilings and floors. Technology upgrades were also left off the priority list.

On Monday, the board voted to ratify the workshop plan. School Board Chairman Barry Nelson said board members will now meet with principals and department heads at each of the schools in their respective districts and recommend cuts to the projects based on the priorities established at the workshop session.

Wednesday sessions between school board members and principals and departments heads are scheduled for 9 a.m. at J.J. Kelly High School in Wise, 3:30 p.m. at Coeburn High School, 4 p.m. at Appalachia High School, and 4:30 p.m. at Powell Valley High School. Arrangements for Pound and St. Paul high schools are still being ironed out.

Written reports on recommended cuts from each school are due to School Superintendent Greg Killough on Friday.

Later in Monday's meeting, Big Stone Gap's Betty Cornett postponed consideration of a resolution asking the Board of Supervisors to provide a spending limit on high school renovations until the board fully explored all options. Cornett said the meetings at each of the schools this week should allow school personnel to consider all options.

"What do you mean by that term, options?" asked Appalachia's Mark Hutchinson.

Cornett said cost estimates of nearly $30 million for recommended upgrades to J.J. Kelly High School - including a new gym recommended for that school - means Wise residents might want to consider building a whole new school for about the same price.

"To me, if I lived in Wise, I would want to build a new school (and) I think everybody here has different options," Cornett said.

Hutchinson said the board, including Cornett, already chose a course of action, and that does not include consideration of more options. The option most clearly surfacing was that old bugaboo, consolidation.

"Those options are not passed as a group as a direction for us to take," said Hutchinson.

Hutchinson also criticized a suggestion by Big Stone Gap's Cecilia Robinette that the public be invited to attend the meetings at each of the schools this week. He said each board member is elected to represent their constituents and has the duty to get input from them at any and all times, and having the public have more input at the school meetings would only serve to complicate the process.

Two Appalachia residents, long familiar in the anti-consolidation battle, and a Pound resident exhorted the board to make as cheap and as few upgrades are needed to the high schools and ignore a resurgent call in the county to reconsider consolidation.

Marlene Bush of Appalachia said it didn't matter how rundown a school looks on the outside - it was the product created inside that matters.

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