Construction on a sixth Lexington public high school could begin in 2015

Construction on Fayette County's sixth traditional public high school, needed as a result of enrollment growth, could begin in July 2015 and would continue through June 2017, Superintendent Tom Shelton said Monday.

The $75.8 million school is proposed for a 49-acre site at 1970 Winchester Road near Patchen Wilkes Drive, Shelton said during a briefing Monday afternoon.

The land purchase for the 1,800-student high school was approved unanimously by the Fayette County school board Monday night. The land sits on the south side of Winchester Road, between the Summerfield subdivision and Sir Barton Way. The school would open in August 2017.

Shelton said a redistricting committee would begin working after the first of the year to draw up new enrollment boundaries for all Fayette County schools.

There will be opportunities for public input, he said.

"It will be a major process as we look at all our schools to make sure we maximize efficiencies and make boundaries that make sense for families and deal with all our guiding principles," Shelton said during Monday's briefing. Shelton later said the district would "utilize all of our buildings to do what's right for kids."

Construction costs for the new high school are estimated to be $59.8 million. Additional costs include architects' fees, site acquisition, furnishings, computers, and heating and air-conditioning systems.

The property would be bought from Haymaker Development Co. for $5.6 million, according to board documents. The appraised value of the property is $7.9 million.

The school would be Fayette County's first entirely new high school since Paul Laurence Dunbar opened in 1990. A new building for Bryan Station High School opened in 2007.

Three of Lexington's five public high schools — Henry Clay, Dunbar and Lafayette — are well above capacity. Bryan Station is at capacity. Only Tates Creek is below capacity.

"This site is located perfectly to be able to relieve the crowding at Henry Clay High School and accommodate the housing boom in the area of town between Richmond and Winchester Roads," Shelton said in a news release.

District officials shared a sample layout for the campus showing entrances from Winchester Road and a proposed extension of Meeting Street, but Shelton said the drawings were preliminary.

The process must begin immediately if the school is to be ready in August 2017, Shelton said. The school board will be asked to approve designers at a future meeting.

The 270,000-square-foot building would be similar in size to the most recent high schools built in Fayette County.

The district will pay for the project with facilities funding that can be used only for capital projects, including state dollars, local property-tax revenue and the sale of school construction bonds, officials said in a news release.

The district is in the process of obtaining Kentucky Department of Education approval for the school.

Student enrollment in Fayette County Public Schools has grown from 34,688 students 10 years ago to 40,109 this school year, officials said.

The district has grown by 750 students each year for the past nine years, district spokeswoman Lisa Deffendall said.

"Our schools are already overcrowded, so we're on a very aggressive time line to complete this school," Shelton said in a news release. "This is a very large project. We need to get this done as quickly as we possibly can."

Ten years ago, enrollment in each of the district's five high schools averaged 1,720. This year, average enrollment is 2,034.

"Our goal is to get ahead of the growth so we have capacity to manage over a period of time," Shelton said in the news release. "We don't want to be reactive to the growth. We want to get ahead of that curve."

School board members praised the choice for the site. School board member Amanda Ferguson said the search for the property was exhaustive.

"It's hard to be able to find that type of acreage within a city," said school board member Daryl Love.

Other new schools are planned for Fayette County. The school board recently approved the purchase of land at 2550 Georgetown Road for $1.5 million from Haymaker Development Co. for an elementary school that will hold 650 students.

The $19.2 million building should be ready in August 2016.

Additionally, the board is moving ahead with construction of a 650-student elementary school on 15 acres east of Interstate 75 at 1281 Deer Haven Lane. The $18.9 million project also is expected to open in August 2016.

The two schools are among three elementary schools Fayette County plans to build to address overcrowding. District officials have said they continue to look for property for the third elementary.

The most recent elementary school built, Wellington Elementary on Keithshire Way, opened in 2011.

A new middle school also is planned, Shelton said, although it is not an immediate priority.

The district is in the final stages of buying the former Winn-Dixie building in a shopping plaza at South Broadway and Virginia Avenue for the STEAM Academy (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Math), a 600-student high school that opened in August in temporary quarters at the old Johnson Elementary School.

That academy is a joint effort of the school district and the University of Kentucky, and it features new teaching techniques.

In addition to the new schools, a district facilities plan calls for the renovation of 15 existing schools.

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