CHIPLEY — Site Selection Committee members, along with school board members and city residents, met Thursday to discuss the location on which a new Kate M. Smith Elementary School might one day be built.
Only two members of the five-person committee were able to attend Thursday’s meeting, but Superintendent Joe Taylor said he would poll the other members next week so the Washington County School Board can approve the site selection at the Jan. 15 meeting.
“There’s nothing new here, this has been a 20-year process,” Taylor said of the plans for a new elementary school. The district is looking at a 22-plus acre site off South Boulevard on which to build a new elementary campus.
The district owns the South Boulevard site as well as the property on which the current elementary school sits, and the choice the site committee is facing boils down to whether or not to build the new campus at the same location where the current Kate Smith Elementary School is located, or move to another site entirely.
The two members present, as well as most of the audience, favored building the new elementary school on a different site than where the current school is located.
“We are looking at a two-year or three-year construction cycle,” Taylor said, “Which would mean that for two years or more you would have construction going on right there on campus while also having classes, if we chose to build on the current location.”
“Having construction going on while trying to hold classes would be distracting,” said Lesa Burdeshaw, principal at Kate M. Smith Elementary School.
Another issue with the current site is the fact that the campus is bisected by a city street, Taylor said. “We have talked to the city about closing that road, and there are utilities there that the city would have need to maintain access to.” Taylor said having a city street run through a campus is something the Department of Education frowns on.
The 22-acre site off South Boulevard stretches to Brickyard Boulevard, and is separated from that street by a drainage area. There is no currently construction on the property, but the water utilities are in place, Taylor said. “Another problem with the current site is the infrastructure under the school is 60 years old,” he noted. With the new location, all the water and sewage plumbing would also be new.
The district is trying to get a site located and a package prepared so the project can be presented to the Special Facilities Construction Account Committee in Tallahassee in August. If the project can be approved in August by the state, then it is possible the school could be considered for state funding beginning as early as 2014.
“This is a long-term project, but we have to get the process started,” Taylor said. Currently there are two Special Facilities projects in line ahead of Washington County School District which have been approved by the state for funding — a $49 million and a $36 million project. “If we can get approved, and if no other schools are out there planning a project, we could be number three in line,” Taylor said.
Taylor said the elementary school is projected to cost about $20 million.
Once the school board approves a site for the new school, the next step will be to get an architect’s drawing for the project.
“We’ll probably start advertising for an architect’s services in the next two weeks or so,” Taylor said.