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Macon County Board of Education Special Called Meeting

The Macon County School Board met on Jan 28th for a special called meeting to discuss a new elementary school.

New board member Tim Case had a presentation for a plan to accomplish that goal.

After the meeting was called to order it was turned over to Mr. Case to make his approximate 45 minute power point presentation.

First Case outlined a proposed vision for the school board to: a) purchase land in order to create one complex for all the schools in Lafayette, b) proposed building a new board of education, facility maintenance storage, and school bus garage buildings on the proposed property, c) proposed help needed from the county, d) a proposed plan to finance the proposal (without any further increase in taxes), and e) a plan to sell four older school properties.

In an interview following the meeting Mr. Case wanted to stress that all his numbers are his best estimates of costs and revenue sources. They are not exact figures, which is something that the board would have to flesh out if they decide to adopt and move forward with his plan.

The county voters have already approved a one half-cent sales tax revenue to be dedicated to the school system to build a new elementary school. For the months of June thru November in 2020 that figure has averaged roughly $98,700 per month. As of the date of this meeting there is approximately $2,000,000 which has accrued in the Board’s coffers.

Adjacent to the current Macon County High School location there is the possibility to purchase approximately 254 acres. This would allow a site to build the proposed new school and three additional buildings. It would also create room for the school system to grow for the next 20-40 years, if need be. The purchase price of the property would be approximately $4,600,000 with some additional provisions to be negotiated.

Case proposed that the purchase be made and the $2,000,000 be applied which would leave $2,600,000. Following the purchase they would acquire a local bridge loan or loans for the approximate 48 month build time for the new school building. In that time, apply the monthly sales tax amount for 27 or 28 months (of the 48 month construction phase) to pay for that land. Then in the remaining 20-21 months of the initial construction of the proposed new school, the Board will accrue another approximate $2,000,000 from the sales tax money.

Case proposes building a new K-5 school capable of accommodating 1600 children. If it were built and be ready today, the school system would move in approximately 1,350 kids. Mr. Boles had indicated that the average increase in this number for these grades in the past would be roughly 15 kids/year. So building a school with room for growth should/could mean that the school would accommodate roughly 16 years before it would reach full capacity.

Regarding the new school, the state requires that for an elementary school there be 114 square feet per child. With 1600 kids @ 114/kid that means it would be 182,400 sq feet. Estimating a building cost of $200/sq ft that would mean the construction cost would be $36,500,000. Using a cost of $250/sq ft it would be $45,600,000. For the purpose of his presentation, Case estimated a middle ground of $40,000,000 to build the school.

At this point Mr. Case shared some information he obtained from the Lebanon Special School district for comparison. In 2010 they built Winfree-Bryant, a 6th through 8th grade school, which was 130,000 square feet at a cost of $16,000,000. In 2020 they started construction on the new K-5 school located on Hartman Drive, Jones-Brumett, which is 117,000 square feet for a cost of $30,000,000. Part of the amount for the Jones-Brumett school did include upsizing of some utilities and other things for the future possibility of a middle school being built on that same property which Lebanon has already purchased land in the event they need it.

The proposed plan to pay for this project was then discussed. Mr. Case had spoken to the USDA and if a loan was approved and could be locked in by Mar 31, 2021 the county could get a rate of 2.125% for a 40 year repayment. Using those figures $40,000,000 @ 2.125% for 480 months would yield a payment of approximately $123,778 per month. Then Case suggested that the tax revenue the School Board was voted to receive be applied ($98,700), leaving a shortfall of $25,078 each month. Case asked that the Board ask the county to split this payment.

It is important to note that later in the meeting Board Member Bryan Nichols asked Mr. Boles what he thought the ‘high side’ of this request could be. Boles indicated that at present roughly he estimated that the cost could be as much as $48,000,000. This would/could mean that that $25,078 figure could increase to $45,000 or $46,000 per month to be split.

Of the remaining amount to be paid for by the School Board, Case proposed taking the monthly payment out of the surplus money accrued during the last 20-21 months of construction which would last 7-10 years. At this point the bonds that have currently been taken for the new construction underway at the Macon County Junior High and Red Boiling Springs School would be close to being paid for. That figure is currently in the Board budget at approximately $525,000 per year. Case then suggested that the remaining obligation could be paid from these funds, with a surplus left over.

Regarding the three new buildings (BOE, Maintenance, and Bus Garage) to be built, Case laid out these figures. Currently in Lafayette and their budget, they are spending roughly $873,000 in utilities or $109,000 per school to operate. If you sold three of these schools you could eliminate a large operating cost and free up some maintenance costs, without requesting more money from the County, and allowing money to build these buildings. While a new 1600 child school would have its own operating costs, due to greater efficiency and today’s technology Case thought that there had to be a savings here.

Mr. Case then outlined some other benefits to building this large of a school and the benefits and savings it could provide. Currently he estimated that just in the pick-up routes of the 27 school busses in operation today they travel approximately 11 miles per day 180 days out of the year. With a proposed campus of K-12 in three schools at one location the fuel savings alone could be as much as $30,000/yr. In addition with less mileage on a new bus it stands to reason that the life expectancy of that bus might be extended from 15 to say 18 years.

In some possible extra benefits in purchasing the proposed property, Case suggested the creation of a lake to be used for the public and the newly created fishing teams in the school system. With the property on hand to do it, he suggest that sometime in the future something like a culinary school, like the one in Glasgow, KY, or a performing arts center, like one Case observed at Centennial High School, could be built. Case said that he spoke to people at both these schools and both of the buildings were built with grants. Another possible benefit could be that students be allowed to use a plot of ground to till, plant, grow, harvest, and market a cash crop. He cited that the Dyer County (TN) High School had an agriculture program that raised crops and had a livestock program, which included an on-site livestock pavilion. Currently even if the Macon County School System could get a grant to do any or all of this, they have nowhere to put anything like this.

Mr. Case concluded his presentation with the premise that we all need to work together and that it would be his recommendation that this would be a good place to start. He acknowledged that there are other schools in other parts of the county that need addressing as well.

Other members commented that they appreciated the time and effort that Mr. Case put in what they thought was a well presented proposal. With no other item on the agenda to discuss the meeting was adjourned.

There happened to be quite a few county commissioners in attendance as well as County Mayor Steve Jones. Speaking to a few of them after the meeting, the presentation also seemed to be well received.

Now the Macon County School Board will have to come to an agreement on what parts, any or all of this proposal, to implement and move forward with. Then it will be necessary to get the County Commission to agree to this plan.