Growing district has building pros, cons

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Moving Forward by Superintendent Keith Davis

 I have called Bullitt County home for nearly two decades and in that time, I have been privileged to witness a great deal of growth and progress in this community.

Our student population has grown a little over 30 percent over that 20 year period to right at 13,000 students in kindergarten through 12th grades. 

This kind of growth presents a lot of opportunities.  With more students, we can offer more varied and individualized programs tailored to specific interests and abilities. 

At the same time, it can present challenges related to facilities both now and in the distant future.

You may have read about the discussion and debate concerning the replacement or renovation of two of our local elementary schools, both of which were originally constructed in the early 1970s during another time of explosive student growth related to busing in a neighboring district. These two buildings were designed using an open-classroom concept, meaning there were few walls separating instructional spaces.  This concept has now fallen out of favor, and in the minds of many, these buildings are obsolete.  

While I agree that based on age and condition, they have definite needs (walls included), it is only fair to point out that both schools are producing solidly performing students and, in fact, one of them is our top-performing elementary school. 

The committee debated tearing down and replacing both schools versus undergoing a renovation.  

Without going deeply into all the reasons, suffice to say that the final decision for renovation of both schools is in the best long term interest of the district and the taxpayers that pay the bills. 

Renovation of the two schools saves at least $15,000,000 as compared to the cost of replacing them completely, plus we will not be tearing down structures that are already paid for and which are in overall very sound condition.  

In the last six years, we have completed four very successful renovation projects on budget and these facilities are designed for at least another 30 years of useable life.

The danger of spending everything available on present wishes is that when other needs arise, the funding may not be available. 

I noted 30 percent growth in the past 20 years. 

That growth is not likely to cease, which would put us at almost 17,000 students by 2034.  Those 4,000 extra students will require more schools, and those buildings will have a cost (a new high school goes from between $35 and $70 million dollars in today’s dollars). 

In addition, the current facilities will be twenty years older then. 

I don’t write this to alarm; with the growing population will come a growing tax base, but I strongly believe we must be as conservative as possible in our spending now, so as not to leave future Boards, superintendents, and taxpayers with a big problem not of their own making. 

We have a duty of stewardship to our future that is not always politically popular, but it remains to us to do the right things even when they may not be popular.

The Board of Education’s Facilities department is responsible for the operation and maintenance of over 1,900,000 square feet in 32 buildings on total of 517 acres of Bullitt County. 

The total value of buildings and property are $239.7 million, less the outstanding debt of $142.1 million, making the real value almost $100 million. 

We are in a very good position regarding our school facilities at present. 

They are functional, structurally sound, have modern security and entrances, and have high levels of instructional technology. 

By continuing to mark a conservative path on facility spending, we can avoid finding ourselves with big space or maintenance issues and no resources with which to address them.