Clark Co. board seeking KBE waiver to build multipurpose athletic facility that KDE ruled too large; superintendent: "Now a gym is not just a gym"

Winchester Sun, Dec. 24, 2016

CCPS seeks waiver for athletics facility
By Seth Littrell

The planning process for an athletic facility at George Rogers Clark High School will have to take a detour to the Kentucky Board of Education next year.

Clark County Schools Superintendent Paul Christy said the Kentucky Department of Education sent the district notice it is unable to approve schematics presented to and approved by the Clark County Board of Education in November because they are too large.

“KDE has a model that they go by based on the population of the school,” Christy said. “You’re allocated so much space based on the number of students that you have per their building regulations.”

The schematic for a 60,000-square-foot athletics facility, which Christy said was put together by architects after speaking with administrators, teachers, students and others in the school system, exceeds KDE’s guidelines by about 40,000 square feet.

He said part of the reason for the overage is related to the size of hallways, aisles, restrooms and other portions of the facility that were widened to be comparable with the rest of the high school it will be attached to.

“Sixty-eight percent of a building must be used for the exact purposes or events that you plan on hosting there,” Christy said. “The remaining percentage is your hallways, your restrooms, concession areas, the aisleways between the seats in the gym, and in order to keep it in line with what we’ve done in the high school proper, we went a little bit over on that. We felt we needed the additional hallway space so it’s not crowded.”

Another reason for the overage stems from the extra activity rooms planned for the faciltiy, including an arts and humanities room, a health education room and a room for GRC’s JROTC program. The additional spaces were added based on what were determined to be the needs of some of the programs at the school, Christy said.

Administrative Director of Operations Donald Stump said the district, upon approval from the Clark County Board of Education Tuesday night, will seek a waiver from the state board of education. The district is sending a letter to KDE requesting to be added to the February agenda of the state board so administrators can make their case as to why the plans should be approved.

“When you actually exceed the square footage that’s allowed by KDE based on their formula … then the facilities branch at KDE doesn’t have the authority to approve a size beyond what that formula mandates,” Stump said. “So you go before the state board of education and ask them for a waiver to exceed that formula. That’s what we asked our board to do the other day.”

The process is not uncommon, Christy said, and the state recently granted a waiver to Fayette County Schools for a construction project under similar circumstances.

Christy and Stump said having to appear at a state BOE meeting will not delay the planning process for the athletics facility.

“We’re still moving forward,” Christy said. “The architects are still moving forward with the design process. We’ll just have more of the paperwork done when we are ready to go.”

FOCUS ON MULTI-FUNCTIONALITY

Christy said the situation is indicative of a trend among school systems to seek more multi-functional spaces in their facilities.

“Now a gym is not just a gym,” Christy said. “It’s an indoor theater, it’s a place for graduation, it’s a place for communities to have things. Another county I’m familiar with just a couple counties over has a fundraiser and they have a concert in theirs.”

Stump said one of the stronger arguments for Clark County to be granted a waiver is the fact the county needs a space to host indoor graduations.

“We don’t have a great deal of options for an indoor graduation ceremony,” he said. “We can go to Lexington or Richmond and rent others’ facilities but if the weather is inclement during our graduation, our only option is to keep cancelling and rescheduling until we have weather that’s conducive to an outside setting.”

With seating estimated for about 4,000 people, the planned facility would meet that need. Christy said the space could also be put to use for other purposes in the community when not being used by the schools.

“It’s not just a gymnasium, it’s so much more than that,” Christy said.

Christy said he is confident the state board will approve what has already been planned for the facility. Even if the board does take issue with the size of the planned facility, Christy said it will allow the district to get more specific information about what the issued with and how to correct them.

Stump said a good sign as the district begins the waiver process is that KDE has already given approval to initial planning documents which originally projected even more seating than is currently planned.

POSSIBLE SILVER LINING

Christy said the need for the school board to seek a waiver could, in fact, present a silver lining of sorts once the 2017 General Assembly begins.

Some state representatives have talked about legislation to make changes to prevailing wage law, which sets an hourly base wage for workers on public works projects that are estimated to cost more than $250,000.

If changes are made to exempt school districts from prevailing wage laws, the total cost of the project could be drastically reduced.

“And if that came to fruition, we could look at other needs on our district facilities plan that could be addressed in the future as well,” Stump said.

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