Officials with the Woodford County school district are beginning to gauge public opinion about building a new high school to replace the existing one built in the 1960s.
Superintendent Scott Hawkins is scheduled to speak Tuesday to Versailles City Council about the possibility of a property tax increase of 6 cents per $100 in assessed value to help finance the construction of a new high school plus some other projects.
City council doesn’t have any say over the tax, which would have to be approved by the Woodford County school board. But Hawkins said his appearance before the council is the first of several public occasions to explain the tax and why it’s under consideration.
“We’re just trying to go out to different groups and organizations to say, ‘Here’s where we are. Here’s what the board is considering. This is what it would take for us to make that happen,’” Hawkins said Monday.
The school board has not scheduled a vote on the tax increase. The revenue raised by the tax would go toward construction of a $47 million high school with a capacity for 1,400 students. It would be built on acreage next to Woodford County Middle School that the district purchased in 2012, Hawkins said.
(Fayette County’s new Frederick Douglass High School on Winchester Road cost $82 million and has a capacity of 1,800 students.)
The Woodford school district has a bonding capacity of $13.8 million. A 6-cent tax increase would bring the bonding capacity to $53 million, Hawkins said. Anything less than 6 cents wouldn’t get the district to the necessary bonding capacity.
The tax increase would also pay for other projects, such as renovations to Southside and Northside elementary schools to address upgrades for disability access.
The tax increase would add about $120 a year to the tax bill on a $200,000 house, Hawkins said. By adopting a tax increase, the school district would be eligible for matching money from the state, he said.
The current high school, the only one in Woodford County, opened in 1964 and was renovated in 1981 and in the late 1990s. It has a capacity of 1,200 students and had about 1,260 students on Friday, the second day of classes for the new school year.
The new high school is the Woodford district’s No. 1 priority, according to a district facility plan approved in June by the Kentucky Board of Education.
If the board approved a tax, it’s possible the new high school could open for the 2020-21 school year, Hawkins said.
If the tax isn’t adopted now, “the earliest we could address a new high school is 2028,” Hawkins said. That’s because the district is paying off debt on other projects, such as the new middle school that opened in 2005 and other projects at elementary schools.
“It’s kind of like your home mortgage,” Hawkins said. “You can’t necessarily take on any more until you pay down some of the debt you have, or you increase your revenue.”
Hawkins also plans to visit Woodford Fiscal Court and Midway City Council in coming weeks. The school district has scheduled public forums on Sept. 7 at the high school and Sept. 21 at Midway University. Another forum might be scheduled but a location has not been identified.
Once a new high school is built, the existing high school would be renovated to become a central office, transportation center, preschool, alternative education center, and career and technical education center.
The district’s central office is now in an old school building on Pisgah Pike behind CastlePost off U.S. 60. Hawkins isn’t sure what would happen with that building because deed restrictions limit its potential uses.
Before the district occupied the Pisgah Pike location for its central office, that building was used as a research lab and customer-service office by Kuhlman Electric Corp., a manufacturer of utility transformers. Before that, it was an elementary school that closed in 1979.
The Woodford school district has a total enrollment of a little less than 4,000 students.