The Fayette County Board of Education voted unanimously earlier this week to close both Ansted and Divide Elementary schools at the end of the 2022-23 school year.

FAYETTEVILLE — The Fayette County Board of Education voted unanimously Thursday to close two elementary schools at the end of the 2022-23 school term.

By a 5-0 tally, the board chose to close Ansted and Divide elementary schools, both which were built in the early 1950s.

The proposed Midland Trail Elementary School, a PK-5 school to be built on the campus of Midland Trail High/Middle in Hico, will house the student populations of Ansted and Divide beginning in the fall of 2023, if all goes as planned.

"We've come a long way in understanding what direction the system has to go," said Superintendent Gary Hough. He added that "there was a lot more contention" when the closures were first announced, but that the response from speakers at recent closure hearings was "positive."

"Now we have the evidence of progress we've made," Hough said. "I think we've come a long way."

The documents in support of closing the schools addressed, among other issues, handicap accessibility and other matters regarding the condition of the two structures, as well as the need to maximize the utilization and operating capacity of buildings.

The new school will bear an estimated price tag of $15-18 million, Hough said. The anticipated cost has risen from its original estimate due to inflation, he said.

Fayette County Schools plans to request funding to build the new school at a November gathering of the state School Building Authority. The school system will not seek money for any other projects in that particular funding cycle.

Hough said the school system is "hoping to have between $5 million and $6 million to match" a potential award from the SBA. That money would come from a capital improvement fund already in place.

"I know that all school closures are difficult" and take a toll on the community, students and staff, said board member Cindy Whitlock. She went on to praise the legacy which will be left behind by the two schools.

Board member Marion Tanner thanked the administration and staff for their diligent work throughout the closure process. And, she thanked members of the community for describing what they wanted for their children and their communities, which included "physically safe, environmentally safe schools."

"We aren't going to grow until we improve our educational system, and make people want to come to live here and bring their kids," Tanner said.

Board member Gary Ray said individuals in the affected areas are "very concerned about their community." The key, he said, is to "stay focused on what's good for the kids." "The building doesn't make the quality of education, but it sure helps set the tone," he added.

Board member Steve Slockett said great strides have been taken with Fayette County facilities and student achievement in recent years under the current CEFP (Comprehensive Educational Facilities Plan), with the welfare of the students and their academic achievement being the primary objective. "I support this final piece of our CEFP that will finally put everybody in this county when this project is completed in a safe, modern, up-to-date facility that will help our students achieve better in the Nuttall-Hico-Ansted area like the rest of our county."

Also Thursday, the board recognized Young Writers and Golden Horseshoe winners, in addition to hearing a presentation from Katie Johnson about the ICE Collaborative.

And, Anna Kincaid-Cline, the associate superintendent of curriculum, technology and instruction, delivered a presentation on the county's involvement in the American Rescue Plan Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief Fund (ARP ESSER).

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