By Crystal Wylie
Register News Writer
The Madison County School Board voted 5-0 Thursday to purchase 301 Highland Lakes, off Gibson Bay Drive, as the future home of its central office.
The vote came after an executive session at the end of the board’s monthly meeting.
Superintendent Elmer Thomas called the purchase “fiscally responsible,” because it will put off for as much as five years the building of a new elementary school in northern Madison County, an area that is projected to grow.
Offices now scattered in several places will be moved to the new location, freeing classroom space for preschool students, Thomas said.
The district’s current 7,500-square foot central office at 550 Keeneland Drive (valued at $550,000 in 2009), plus an additional $1.1 million, will be used to purchase the new 22,000-square foot Highland Lakes property valued at $2.5 million in 2009.
Former owner Danny McQueen purchased the property for $3.07 million in 1999. It was then leased for a few years but has been vacant for some time, Thomas said.
The property’s purchase price was initially listed at $2.8 million and was later knocked down to $1.8 million, but the board, which had considered the property in the past, still was not interested.
When McQueen proposed the property swap and a price of $1.1 million, Thomas said, “we thought that was a good deal.”
The district offices and those of services now scattered around Richmond will be moved to the new location, providing a “one-stop shop” for students, teachers and parents, Thomas said.
“Right now, we’re all over the place,” he said, which may require someone to visit several different locations to have their needs met.
The district’s special-education offices, now in an old house next to Madison Central High School, will be moved to the new central office. Maintenance of the special-education office building is cost prohibitive, the superintendent said.
The district’s English as a Second Language, preschool, nursing and occupational/physical therapy offices are now housed at the Bellevue Education Center, 300 Bellevue Dr., and will be moved to the new central office. That will free space at Bellevue for preschool classes from Daniel Boone, Kit Carson and White Hall elementary schools next school year, Thomas said.
Half of the Bellevue building will continue to be used for the district’s day-treatment program, which serves students who are in the court system. There also will be additional room for students who may require short-term placement instead of suspension.
Moving preschool classes into Bellevue will give the three affected elementary schools “a little elbow room,” the superintendent said. Because preschool classes were taught at Bellevue in the past, its large classrooms are equipped for young students, he added. Each has an adjoining bathroom.
Some room already was to be made available by the opening of the Mayfield Kindergarten Academy next year. It will house kindergartners from Daniel Boone, Kit Carson and White Hall.
Those schools are slated for major renovations this summer, and once completed, each school will have even more room to grow, Thomas said.
In recent years, “we always said we have more than 10,000 students in this district,” he said. “Now we can safely say we have more than 11,000 students.”
Last year, Madison County Schools added 168 students.
“Everybody knows and expects for us to have growth in northern Madison County,” Thomas said, citing census projections. “We will need a new elementary school there and eventually a new middle school.”
By maximizing space already available in district facilities, Thomas said the board can put off building a new elementary school for four to five years.
The cost for just the required staff at a new elementary school would be approximately $250,000 each year. Those would include a principal, guidance counselor, media specialist (librarian) and two front office administrative assistants — not counting teachers. Saving that cost for the next four to five years means the purchase of the new central office essentially “pays for itself,” Thomas said.
“I couldn’t be fiscally responsible building a new elementary school without maximizing the space we already have in this district,” he said.
And the $1.1 million used to purchase the property will not be bonded or come out of the district’s general fund, as would salaries, the superintendent noted. The property will be purchased with capital outlay funds that are designated for building projects and renovations.
Each year, the district receives nearly $1 million in capital outlay funds from the state. Because the district has been able to maintain its $5.67 million contingency fund each year without spending it on capital projects, it has more than $5 million in capital funds saved.
Some of the money used to buy the new building remains from 2010 and 2012 capital projects, Thomas said.
Madison County’s district facilities plan from 2007, but updated and approved by the state education department in February, shows central office on the list of capital priorities after school renovations.
Several of the plans, such as renovations to Madison Southern High School, the building of Farristown Middle School and Shannon Johnson Elementary, were completed.
Renovations of Silver Creek Elementary (scheduled next summer), Kit Carson, Daniel Boone, White Hall (this summer), along with renovations at Clark-Moores Middle, Foley Middle, Bellevue, Madison Middle, Madison County Area Technology Center and MCHS already are scheduled and on the list, Thomas said.
The board considered plans for a new central office building in 2011 but abandoned them, the Richmond Register reported in January 2012.
With the new location’s ample parking, Thomas said school board meetings could be moved to the Highland Lakes building. Meetings now are conducted in a Madison Central auditorium. Often, those who attend the meetings have a hard time finding parking because of athletic or theater events that occur on the same night.
Crystal Wylie can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 623-1669, Ext. 6696.