New JCPS schools discussed as district looks ahead to 2020

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) – A new middle school, a number of modern elementary schools and a consolidated central office could be on the horizon for Jefferson County Public Schools.

The district’s facilities committee, which has been tasked with reexamining JCPS’s most pressing facility needs that could at least be started by the end of 2020, heard JCPS Chief Operations Officer Mike Raisor lay out his department’s vision during a meeting Wednesday.

It’s part of a push by JCPS Superintendent Marty Pollio to amend the district’s Vision 2020 plan.

Key changes Raisor discussed include building a middle school in eastern Jefferson County, opening new elementary schools large enough to accommodate students from multiple aging schools, leasing space for central office staff and either repurposing or selling property on the VanHoose Education Center campus, and renovating older “flagship” buildings like duPont Manual High School and the Academy @ Shawnee.

Growth in Jefferson County’s east end has pushed three of the district’s five resides middle schools in the area over capacity – Raisor said Carrithers, Crosby and Ramsey are at more than 110 percent – while the other two – Kammerer and Westport – are nearly there at more than 93 percent. Raisor said the buildings are designed for up to 115 percent capacity, making space a premium in those schools.

“There’s not a way in the east end right now to simply restructure boundary lines because all we’d do is basically be rearranging deck chairs,” Raisor said, noting that the resides area around Carrithers, Crosby and Ramsey is projected to grow by 40 percent within a generation of students.

That’s not the case for the district’s elementary schools, however. Raisor said the district has 91 elementary schools, but students can be housed comfortably in just 77.

He suggested phasing out older, under-enrolled schools and building new ones that can accommodate students from two schools.

Raisor told WDRB News after the meeting that he could think of six to eight elementary schools that could be consolidated, but he declined to specify which before the facilities committee completes its work.

“Everyone has a brand-new building in that case,” he said.

Central office staff at JCPS could also get new office space to consolidate under one roof, but Raisor suggested finding a building to lease rather than renovating existing offices or building new. He predicted that savings in an energy-efficient building would be enough to cover lease payments.

Renovating the existing VanHoose and Lam buildings alone would cost $50 million, he said. That could allow the district to repurpose that campus for other needs or sell the property, which sits off the Watterson Expressway, outright.

“I think those buildings are in an ideal location for us if we have a program that we could put there,” Raisor said. “At the same time, given the infrastructure crisis that we know that we’re in, if the right price was offered for that land, I think it would be foolish of us not to invest that in renovating other buildings where students are.”

But historic “flagship” buildings that were built many years ago deserve to be fully renovated, he said. The costs to build new schools with the same specifications would be enormous in today’s dollars, he said. Manual, for example, was built in 1933.

Part of that renovation schedule would depend on the district’s ability to find space for students during work and juggle about $50 million each year in construction paid through bonds.

The district’s decisions against utilizing its bonding capacity for facility construction is among reasons cited by interim Education Commissioner Wayne Lewis in his recommendation for state management at JCPS.

However, Raisor said he believes it’s better to issue smaller bonds that are easier to manage over a seven-year cycle. JCPS has about $350 million in bonding capacity, he said.

“Each year we spend a portion of our bonding capacity,” Raisor said. “It would be unwise to spend all of your bonding capacity at once because then you have no bonding capacity left.”

Reach reporter Kevin Wheatley at 502-585-0838 and Follow him on Twitter @KevinWheatleyKY.

Copyright 2018 WDRB News. All rights reserved.

Education Reporter