As Fayette County grows, more new schools are likely soon

Principal Shamiah Ford greeted Natalie Helm, 9, and her mom Kelly as students and parents toured the new Coventry Oak Elementary School near Georgetown Road Thursday.
Principal Shamiah Ford greeted Natalie Helm, 9, and her mom Kelly as students and parents toured the new Coventry Oak Elementary School near Georgetown Road Thursday.

Fayette County can’t build schools or add classrooms fast enough.

Two elementary schools are opening next month and a high school will open in 2017, but Fayette County Public Schools officials say more new schools and renovations are needed to deal with the district’s growing student population.

The work of deciding whether Fayette County needs another new elementary or middle school — and whether Paul Laurence Dunbar High School needs 12 new classrooms and Henry Clay High School eight — is in the hands of a newly appointed committee.

The Fayette Local Planning Committee, which includes teachers, school leaders, parents, central office staff and community leaders, started meeting July 13 and will meet periodically — weekly at first — through the end of the year to develop a districtwide plan that the state school board must approve by 2017.

Under state law, every district must have a plan approved by the state school board every four years.

Overcrowding is a big concern in Fayette County. Data given to the committee last week showed that at least 17 schools will be over capacity when school starts in August. In many of those schools, portable classrooms have been added to accommodate the growth.

Projections show that in several Lexington neighborhoods, crowding will be worse in 2018-19. The district has 41,000 students. That’s expected to increase to about 45,000 in six years, district officials say. Schools that have portable classrooms or that are the most overcrowded are likely to need more permanent classrooms.

“The bottom line is that you can’t build schools fast enough here in Fayette County,” said Tim Eaton, a consultant for the Kentucky School Boards Association who is facilitating the committee meetings.

“The taxpayers have entrusted us to be conscientious stewards of their tax dollars ... in a manner that is intentionally focused on equity, compliance, efficiency and responsibility,” said Killian Timoney, the committee chairman and the associate principal of Winburn Middle School. “We strive to provide a proposal that meets the needs of all our current students and the potential needs of the hundreds of students that move into our school district every year.”

In 2013, the Kentucky Board of Education approved a plan for school construction in Fayette County that included a new middle school, three new elementary schools, a new STEAM Academy, a new high school and several proposed renovations.

At least four of those projects are scheduled to come to fruition by 2017.

Two elementary schools in the 2013 plan — Coventry Oak and Garrett Morgan — are scheduled to open in August, when the renovation of Squires Elementary also is scheduled to be completed. Lexington’s yet-unnamed sixth public high school, proposed in the 2013 plan, is under construction and is scheduled to open in August 2017 on Winchester Road.

The new committee, which will seek guidance from professionals ranging from architects to funding experts, will have to decide whether other projects on the 2013 plan should remain. Having a project in the plan doesn’t necessarily mean that the project will occur; it just means that it’s a district priority.

It can take three to four years to finish a project.

Myron Thompson, senior director of operations and support, said one likely priority is a new STEAM Academy for 600 students, estimated in 2013 to cost $22.8 million. That program, which focuses on science, technology, engineering, arts and mathematics, is in the East Sixth Street building that was once home to Johnson Elementary School. The building is considered too old to meet the needs of STEAM Academy’s instructional program.

Bill Wallace, the district’s director of facility design and construction, told the Herald-Leader that the district is looking for a permanent home for the academy.

District officials said in December 2015 that STEAM Academy would not be moved to a planned University of Kentucky site because the site didn’t meet state environmental safety standards.

Two other proposed projects likely to stay in the new plan because of Fayette County’s growth is a $24 million middle school for 900 students and a $14.5 million elementary school for 650 students.

Thompson said district officials are negotiating with Centenary United Methodist Church for a 40-acre site on Athens-Boonesboro Road that would be suitable for a new elementary school. That land, near Edythe J. Hayes Middle School, is expected to cost more than $2 million.

Thompson said a specific site for a new middle school had not been determined, but district officials anticipate that it also could be in the Richmond Road corridor.

The Athens-Chilesburg area and the Leestown Road area are two in Lexington that have seen rapid growth since 2015, said Steve Hill, pupil personnel director.

Whether to keep in the plan a $40 million-plus renovation that would add 12 classrooms at Paul Laurence Dunbar High and a $15.8 million renovation at Henry Clay High that would add eight classrooms also will be considered. Henry Clay is the most overcrowded of the traditional high schools, with a capacity of 2,133 and a projected enrollment in the fall of 2,430. The renovation of Dunbar and Eastside and Southside technical schools will likely be a priority because they have never been renovated, Wallace said.

Three projects at Henry Clay, Lafayette and Paul Laurence Dunbar high schools in the 2013 plan are intended to fix violations of the federal law called Title IX requiring that females get high school athletic opportunities and benefits equal to males. Kentucky High School Athletics Association Commissioner Julian Tackett told the state school board in June that the three schools had deficiencies in locker room equity between boys’ baseball and girls’ softball programs and that school officials were not adequately reporting how they intended to fix them.

The proposed projects, estimated at $3.3 million each and also proposed for Tates Creek High School and Bryan Station High School, are for auxiliary gyms with lockers and toilets for girls.

Several schools need renovations to provide a more secure entrance that would require visitors to check in with a receptionist in a secure area before being allowed into the rest of the school, Wallace said.

The committee faces several complex issues, ranging from student safety to structural soundness of a building to having the right space for instructional programs. Cosmetics are considered last.

“As chair, I hope to maximize the abilities and expertise of all the different shareholders that we have represented on the committee to create the best plan possible,” Timoney said.

The committee will decide whether several other projects listed four years ago will remain in the new plan. Those range from a renovation at the district’s Central Office to renovations at various schools and technical centers.

Valarie Honeycutt Spears: 859-231-3409, @vhspears

New schools to open

The first day of the 2016-17 school year in Fayette County for students is Aug. 10. The ribbon cuttings for the new elementary schools are Aug. 5. They are scheduled for 10 a.m. at Coventry Oak Elementary, 2441 Huntly Place (near Georgetown Road); and at 2 p.m. at Garrett Morgan Elementary, 1200 Passage Mound Way (near Polo Club Boulevard south of Man o’ War Boulevard).

The next meeting of the Fayette County Schools Local Planning Committee is at 5:30 p.m. Wednesday at a school district building at 1126 Russell Cave Road in Lexington.