Ward: It’s time to move forward on new school

Published 11:34 am Friday, August 1, 2014

After County Mayor Leon Humphrey’s veto of the county budget was overridden by the County Commission, the director of schools says plans can now proceed for the design phase of a new middle school.
“We have been given one-time funds to do the design phase so we can bring the numbers and low bid back in the next year,” Ward said. “It gives us the money to get the design phase started.”
Ward said during the budget workshops and budget meetings during May and June, members of the budget committee requested hard numbers on the cost of building a new middle school in the Stoney Creek community. The school system was not able to provide those numbers, he said, because designs for the school had not been drawn up by the architect and the system did not have available funds to pay for the designs.
“This will allow us to get specifics on the table,” Ward said.
The director of schools also addressed some concerns recently voiced by Humphrey and others regarding how the proposed school fits into long-term planning for the school system.
“It has been mentioned this project is not addressing the needs of the whole county,” Ward said. “There is no way this county could afford us to look at one project that addressed all of Carter County’s needs.”
He said that held true whether the issue discussed was school consolidation or a plan to address all of the needs of the existing facilities at one time.
“We have to look at it in very realistic terms,” Ward said, adding the best way to do that is to address one district or one school at a time. He said the proposed middle school project will help to alleviate issues at three elementary schools – Unaka, Hunter and Keenburg – and eliminate the use of 23 modular classrooms.
According to Ward, one of the largest benefits of the proposed middle school will be the implementation of a K-4, 5-8, 9-12 academic alignment, which he said will not only benefit the system by improving things from an instructional perspective, but will also help better align things for the students from a socialization aspect.
During the budget process, Ward said he has taken exception to the comparison of the proposed middle school project to the project by the county to build the Carter County Detention Center. The county has been frequently criticized for the handling of that project.
During his remarks to the Commission on Thursday during the special called meeting and during previous interviews, Humphrey has compared the school project to the jail project. “We have become a textbook case across the state of how not to build a jail,” Humphrey said on Thursday. “We do not want to be the textbook example of how not to build a school.”
Ward said he takes issue with the comparison because there is no relationship between the two projects.
“I feel like it is comparing watermelons to oranges,” Ward said. We are building classrooms. We are not building jail pods. We are not housing inmates.”
“We are looking at a project to allow us to better house our students in classrooms,” he added.
The director of schools said he believes making the comparison between the proposed school project and the much-maligned jail project is a political move.
“I feel it is a tactic to get people stirred up,” he added.

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