News and Tribune

February 20, 2013

Clarksville school board reviews New Tech options

By JEROD CLAPP
jerod.clapp@newsandtribune.com

CLARKSVILLE — Options for housing a New Tech facility while renovating and expanding current schools in the district were discussed at the Clarksville Community Schools Board of Trustees meeting Tuesday, but more iterations of the plan are coming next month.

Several options in a feasibility study for New Tech — a project-based learning model for schools — and traditional school models were presented by George Link, a representative with VPS Architecture. After reviewing them, the board requested he come back for another meeting on March 12 with two more options that included renovating the middle school and the addition of pre-kindergarten programs.

With the options the board wants to see, Superintendent Kim Knott said she didn’t expect the total cost of school renovations, expansions and New Tech facilities to cost more than $30 million over a series of phases through several years.

To start, the district would open New Tech only to freshmen and continue the program through those students’ senior year, allowing a new freshman class each year thereafter. 

Bill Wilson, board president, said with declining student enrollment and turning away kindergartners and pre-kindergarten students because of capacity issues, expansion in those areas are a golden opportunity for the district.

“We are now at a point in our history, which is very rare in my opinion, we have the potential to do that and turn things around,” Wilson said. “... We have the potential of capturing both ends of the spectrum and turning things around. We would be crazy not to try to do that.”

The options the board reviewed included keeping current facilities open, housing New Tech courses in the middle school with expansion and upgrades, as well as closing the middle school altogether.

Doug Wacker, board member, said he didn’t like the idea of housing the New Tech courses in the middle school because he didn’t think it would be attractive to students and parents.

“I think New Tech needs to have its own identity,” Wacker said. “I wouldn’t be a fan of putting it in this building, even with the extra space. If we’re going to look to attract students, I don’t think students from New Albany, Sellersburg or Jeffersonville want to come to a New Tech that quite honestly [is housed in a building that has been] known as the middle school since 1967.”

But Link told the board that keeping the middle school open isn’t an inexpensive option — he said renovations to the building to bring it up to current code could cost $16-18 million, not including expansion and updating of the other schools in the district.

Knott said though it’s not cheap to keep the school open, she thinks it’s the best option for the district and best use of taxpayer dollars.

She said it’s possible for the district to use bonds for one or more project phases at a time and still keep tax rates neutral relative to what they’re paying on bonds for Clarksville High School’s renovation, which the district will pay off in 2016.

She said she’d like to expand New Tech options throughout the K-12 spectrum. 

“Clearly, if we could run in the future... a traditional k-12 and a project-based k-12, that to me would be optimal to all the constituents we want to serve, our own constituents and those coming in from the outside,” Knott said. “Why couldn’t we open a pre-k? We could, and we’re turning people away in pre-k now.”

But Jim Bemiss, board member, said whatever the district decides, the options can’t increase the amount of traffic in the area because it’s difficult enough as it is to navigate when school starts and ends.

Link said whatever the district decides, the first phase will hurt the district’s wallet the most, but it should get easier after it’s completed.

“The first phase is going to be the most expensive phase just bringing [the middle school] up to current energy codes... then the subsequent phases after that will be lest expensive because you’re already spent the money on the roof and everything else,” he said.