Wednesday, March 17, 2004

Building plan debated

Some oppose plan to renovate Highlands, add 2 schools

By William Croyle
Enquirer contributor

FORT THOMAS - A four-year building plan that could include a $20 million renovation of Highlands High School and two new school buildings will be voted on Thursday night by the school board.

This comes after a public hearing on the issue Tuesday night attended by about 40 residents. The five-member board and Superintendent Larry Stinson answered questions from the audience about the plan, which is required by the state every four years.

The plan was devised by the district's Local Planning Committee - a group of 17 parents, community members, teachers, principals and other administrators - after four months of research and building tours.

If approved by the board Thursday and then by the state in June, the district can move forward on the renovation at Highlands, which hasn't seen a face lift in about 30 years. The district has $8 million in cash and bonding capacity to start the first phase of the project.

The plan also calls for designating the three elementary schools - Woodfill, Johnson and Moyer - as transitional schools.

That means the schools - built between 1922 and 1930 - would eventually be replaced, and most likely consolidated into two schools.

That idea had some residents upset.

"When we purchased our home on West Southgate five years ago, we did so specifically because we wanted to be within walking distance of Johnson Elementary and Highlands Middle and High schools," said Scott Johnson, whose son attends Johnson Elementary. "My sense is, if you like big mega-schools and like to drive your kids to school, there are other places to go besides Fort Thomas."

Johnson said consolidating schools would lower property values and cause traffic problems.

The Local Planning Committee said consolidation could save the district $600,000 annually and could mean the addition of new programs and improved services to special-needs children.

There was also confusion in the audience and among board members about how binding the plan is if it's approved. Stinson said after the meeting that the plan is not set in concrete.

"Whether it's four years or four months, if the board wants to change its mind on the plan, they can do that," he said.

However, Stinson also said that if it's approved, the board does not have to come back to the citizens and can move forward with any phase.

But he reiterated it is very unlikely that anything could be done to the elementary schools before the next four-year plan.


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