News and Tribune

April 10, 2013

Getting back on track: Clarksville Schools board feels better about New Tech direction with town

By JEROD CLAPP
jerod.clapp@newsandtribune.com

CLARKSVILLE — A week after decrying comments from the Clarksville Redevelopment Commission’s president, Clarksville Community Schools’ board of trustees said they’re now optimistic about a decision on a site for their New Tech facility.

Jim Bemiss, board member, said after a meeting with some town officials — including Redevelopment Director Nick Lawrence and Town Council President Bob Polston — he felt like progress was going to come.

“For the first time that I’ve been involved or been around those discussions ... I felt like in the meeting, that everybody was interested in a solution,” Bemiss said. “Instead of there being barriers thrown up, there were solutions sought. I feel very optimistic.”

The board was “blindsided” by comments made by Bob Popp, redevelopment commission president, to the media about concerns of taking students away from Greater Clark County Schools with the New Tech facility and suggesting a merger of the districts.

The board has worked to get a New Tech High School — based on an educational model that is project-based and problem-focused — at Clarksville’s former Value City site for a couple of years.

Kim Knott, superintendent, said board Vice President Andy Bramer explored alternative sites and different configurations of the Value City site that both the district and town might find amicable.

Following the board’s meeting, board President Bill Wilson said after speaking with town officials, he thinks the hurdles that have come up since the beginning of the calendar year are beginning to come down.

“Instead of having barriers up, everyone is looking at solutions,” Wilson said. “We’re collectively working on this and that’s the first time I’ve seen that [in three or four months].”

The district’s administration set a budget of $5.3 million — set up in multiple phases — to complete the building project. That figure was based on the estimated cost of renovating the Value City site.

But Knott said that’s not the only option available to them. The district may work with the town to discuss demolition of the Value City building and constructing a new structure, or even renovating the middle school for New Tech and moving its students to Clarksville High School.

But after the meeting, she said in facilities studies and visits from New Tech Network officials — with whom the district has committed $463,500 — the Value City site is the clear choice.

“Any time you have to resort to Plan B ... you’re not as happy,” Knott said. “We’ve had over 50 people collectively look at the Value City site, [the middle school] and others, and they all concur that Value City is the best option. If we have to look elsewhere, we will.”

A facilities study presented to the board in February put the cost of renovating the middle school for New Tech at between $16 million and $18 million, about three times the school corporation’s budget.

She said one way or another, Clarksville will have New Tech High School open in August 2014. She said though the timeline has been pushed back now, they’ll still have other options. She said since only freshmen will attend the first year, they can continue to build the other portions of the facility after it opens for the first class.

But she said opening a temporary facility is out of the question, citing it as a bad use of taxpayer dollars.

“I think we’re still on track,” Knott said. “I don’t think I’ve ever put a timeline together without any bumps in the road. I’m used to that and I think the board is used to that.”

Wilson said he thinks town officials are mindful of how much money the district has allotted and are trying to work within those constraints to find a solution.

“Everyone is aware of budget restraints,” Wilson said. “Everyone that is involved with these discussions is trying to find solutions that will work for everyone.”

Wilson said he thinks the Redevelopment Commission will schedule a public meeting strictly talking about New Tech in the next two weeks. 

Though the district’s timeline for a decision on a site is nearly two weeks off schedule, it’s moving on with other pieces of the New Tech timeline.

The district’s administration will meet with its bond counsel on April 16 to talk about financing options for the New Tech facility. Knott said they’ll explore every option available to them and financing structures for each of them.

The board also reviewed a job description for the New Tech High School principal. The position will require the candidate to head the design team and launch the school once it opens, two responsibilities Knott said are unusual for a principal.

Knott said she’s not sure when interviews and hiring will happen, but hopes to set the application deadline for the job at May 3.