The Pulaski County School Board has a difficult decision ahead of them: Put money into renovating the existing Burnside Elementary building or consider building a brand new school.
After a presentation from representatives from Sherman Carter Barnhart Architects, the board and Superintendent Patrick Richardson were shown the scope of what renovating Burnside Elementary would cost.
To fix everything listed in the current plan – needed work plus “other considerations” – the district would be looking at $8.86 million.
That includes the removal and rebuilding of a wall which is separating from the foundation; the renovation of the current media center into a new administrative area, bringing it closer to the front entrance; the creation of a security area for guests to wait at rather that allowing them direct access to the inside of the school; forming a new car drop-off access road that could accommodate around 100 vehicles and would alleviate traffic congestion on the road leading into the school; and extensions to the cafeteria and the new media center area.
That’s doesn’t include other problem areas, such as other external walls which an engineer said needed to be monitored for future deterioration.
According to the Kentucky Department of Education (KDE), a new building to accommodate the approximately 375 students enrolled at Burnside would cost around $11.97 million.
Architect Kevin Cheek explained the actual cost of either plan could go down depending on current construction costs and contractors’ bids, but that was their current best guesses.
Cheek and architect Allison Commings explained to the board that as the cost of renovation gets closer to the cost of building a new school, it is more difficult to get KDE to approve renovations.
“If your renovation gets to 80 percent [of the cost of a new building], KDE’s going to say ‘We cannot back that number. We want you to build a new school,’” Cheek said.
Superintendent Richardson apologized to the board, saying it was not his intention to give them such a difficult choice but that they had only just received the final renovation estimates.
He told the board that if they decided to build a new school, they needed to take into consideration a few ideas, including the fact that the estimated building costs did not include the cost of buying property or landscaping that property to make it usable.
The reason the district would have to look at buying property is because the land the current school sits on has several sinkholes, clay voids and other problems that have caused foundation problems of the current building.
Richardson also said that the board needs to take the wishes of the community in mind.
“Anytime you look at building a new school – moving a school – there is the community emotions that go along with that. There’s been a school at Burnside for many years. It was part of the old high school…. There’s a lot of culture for that community,” he said.
It would be unlikely that the board could find a property large enough “in the heart of Burnside,” he said, meaning a new school would likely be moved out into a surrounding area.
“If the direction we want to go is to build a new school, I think it would be smart to have a community meeting,” Richardson said. “Since we’re in COVID times, that’s really difficult to do.”
He said that they would look into having a virtual meeting or in some call-in type of way.
Richardson said he would go whichever direction the board decided.
“From my standpoint, if I had a child in Burnside Elementary, and I was looking at the possibility of my child going into a brand new school building, I think that would be enough for me to say, ‘Hey, Burnside Elementary was great here while it was here. If we can do better for kids, I think that’s great.’ But you’re going to have that culture, because that’s where that school’s always been,” Richardson said.
The board will discuss options at its July 14 meeting.