By C.V. Moore
MOUNT HOPE —
Mount Hope wants a new elementary school. That much is clear. But how and whether that’s going to happen is by no means apparent at this stage in Fayette County’s effort to address its numerous aging school buildings.
During an exercise to prioritize their “wish list” of facilities upgrades on Monday evening, a group of about two dozen parents and community members placed colored dots on sheets of paper.
Every single green dot, which corresponded with the participants’ top priority, fell underneath “a new school.”
“This building has been here so long. Our kids deserve better. Mount Hope kids are stereotyped because of their school,” said parent Paula Jones.
“I don’t see any other option than going for a new school,” said community member Jean Evansmore. She placed her green dot and threw the others in the trash.
The school was built in 1929, and its latest addition was in 1974. Only Fayetteville Elementary, built in 1923, has a “new” addition that is older — by one year. Both schools are widely acknowledged to be in dire need of repair, and perhaps replacement.
An architect estimates it would cost $7.7 million to address all critical and recommended needs at Mount Hope. A new school, if built in 2016, would cost $12.5 million.
Mount Hope Elementary’s meeting was set up just like at least 18 others being held across the county in recent days. They are intended to gauge each school community’s desires when it comes to their building and its role in delivering a quality education.
Each participant is presented with county-wide school information, asked to rank recommended needs, and given a chance to create and prioritize a facilities “wish list.”
Based on the needs and their costs, participants also are asked the biggest question of all: “Do you recommend that Fayette County Schools run a bond to keep all current facilities open by addressing the current needs?”
Overall, the county needs an estimated $136 million to address all critical and recommended facility needs; $46 million will cover critical needs only, but not items like new safe schools entrances or Americans with Disabilities Act compliance.
The Mount Hope community seemed generally down on the idea of keeping all schools open through a bond.
“They need entirely too much repair,” said parent Suzette Wingrove. “You’re going to put a bandaid on it. You can’t do a tiny fix and expect it to hold for 30 years.”
The 30 years refers to one possible term for a bond. The county’s maximum bonding capacity is $67 million. If that were maxed out on a 30-year bond, it would give the county little wiggle room for future needs.
“In my opinion, they can come up with something better,” said Karrah Aubry, a teacher at Mount Hope. “And I don’t think it would be the worst thing if some of the schools consolidated.”
Jennifer Zukowski was elected by the Mount Hope community to serve on a 60-member county facilities advisory committee, which will communicate the school’s desires to those higher up the chain.
She says the community has already been through this process once before, when it helped create the Comprehensive Educational Facilities Plan (CEFP) in 2010. The current revised plan calls for some consolidation.
“We came together as a community already and said that we can’t keep all the schools open,” said Zukowski.
Before attendees cast their votes and ranked their lists, Mount Hope Elementary Principal Mike Hutchins laid out the numbers.
Mount Hope has the second-highest English and Language Arts test scores in the county, said Hutchins, though it still ranks 253 out of 392 statewide. Forty-four percent of the school is proficient in this area.
Math is another story. The school has the fourth lowest proficiency in the state at 26 percent.
With 294 students enrolled, it is ranked roughly in the bottom third of the state’s elementary schools, size-wise.
Collins Middle School, where Mount Hope students will eventually wind up, held its meeting on the same evening. With 833 students, it ranks 40th out of 663 schools in the state in terms of size.
Later, these Mount Hope kids will wind up at Oak Hill High School, with its 897 students. It is the 34th largest school in the state.
Where would the money come from to build a new school in Mount Hope? Part of it could be incorporated into a bond. Otherwise, the School Building Authority could be asked, but there’s no guarantee funds would be approved. Those are the two basic options, and neither is a guarantee.
The county previously requested funding from the SBA for a new school for Mount Hope. The request was denied. The ability to acquire land to build the school was an issue, according to Zukowski.
But she wants to see the school attract the support of the SBA by presenting plans for a “one-of-a-kind,” “green” school that will become “a community hub,” with adult education and other community services. She believes the land can be leveraged, perhaps on the site of a burned-out middle school scheduled for demolition by the city.
Hutchins says the school, at 90 percent utilization, is “bursting at the seams.”
“We have all these things we want to do in this building, but it’s limiting us,” he said.
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