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King: Time Is Now To Go Back To Work On New School

/ The Upper Cumberland's News Leader
King: Time Is Now To Go Back To Work On New School

Putnam County Director of Schools Corby King said the system could be back to using portable classrooms if the community does not resume work on a new K-8 school.

At a joint work session of county commissioners and school board members Tuesday night, King said enrollment numbers had increased some six percent in the four years prior to COVID-19.

“If we build a new school, we’re looking at three to four years,” King said. “So I’m hoping that if we could get started, if we could gain approval through this process and we could get started building the new school. We have the land. We have some initial drawings. If we can break ground and move forward, open that new school in ’24 or ’25, I think that’s probably a best case scenario.”

“If you look at these projections, where we are going to be way beyond our current capacity in that (2024-2026 period).”

Estimates last year put the cost of the school at $40 million or roughly $240-$250 per square foot. King said they have not updated that number based on rising construction costs.

School enrollment dropped this school year because of COVID. King said they are hearing from many parents who took students out due to virus concerns that they plan to return in the fall. Prior to COVID, the system had already neared the 12,000+ enrollment figure projected for the middle part of this decade. That projection came from an outside firm hired by the system in 2017-2018.

King also said the system also needs to begin exploring expansion of Upperman High School.

“They will have the largest freshman class that they have had,” King said. “It’s a huge eighth grade class. 235 of them moving to Upperman next year. That’s a huge class. We know we need to expand. We don’t have enough room at Upperman High School to accommodate all of our students.”

But King said the school system hoped to avoid the building of a more expensive high school for 10-20 years through the creation of centralized career education space and continued growth in dual enrollment.

“We believe if we can expand the footprint at Upperman High School to accommodate an additional hundred students as well as the CTE, that that will delay our needs for having to build a new high school for many years based on our current use,” King said.

But the director quickly pointed out that outlook would change should the county experience exponential growth.

“It makes us nervous, too, because we could very easily become like a Murfreesboro where Rutherford County had to build, you know, a new high school every year for three years in a row,” King said. “We’re not seeing that type growth, but we are seeing a lot of growth.”

The school board has considered using money from the third round of federal COVID relief funds to expand Upperman or create a new CTE center through expansion at Cookeville High School or White Plains School.

County Mayor Randy Porter said commissioners will need to consider the school and the jail expansion as budget talks begin. The combined projects could take the majority of the county’s bond capabilities.

“We’ve been talking about growth for the last several years,” Porter said. “It’s here and now’s the key time going forward in a conservative way, figuring out how we’re going to meet all these needs, because you start seeing people move in here and we start seeing needs for schools and all of our services in the county are going to be hit with it before we actually start seeing some of our revenues go up.”

Though current numbers have not been calculated, Putnam County could likely borrow between $90 and $100 million without a property tax increase.


The post King: Time Is Now To Go Back To Work On New School appeared first on News Talk 94.1/AM 1600.