Architectural rendering of proposed new Highland High School.

By: Tammy Curtis, Managing Editor

The Highland School District held the first of their public meetings in their “Our Kids, Our Community,”Highland Proud millage campaign to inform the public on the need to increase the current millage by 8.9 mills to build a new high school. There was a large crowd present as Superintendent Jeremy Lewis welcomed the group.
Architectural renderings of the proposed new high school were on display. Lewis provided an update on the work the district had already completed on both the elementary and middle school campuses, including painting the elementary building to better match the school colors. New windows, ceilings, floors, roof, entryway and expansion of the cafeteria, which is still ongoing. They have also implemented locking doors and buzzers for safety concerns.
At the middle school, the district has expanded the parking lot and is currently expanding the cafeteria. The food storage facility is also nearing completion. The funds for the projects came from the re-dedication of the five mills a few years ago.

Why Now?
Lewis explained that while the district realizes this time is not the best with rising costs every day. “There is always going to be something, but right now we do have $6.3 million in partnership money.”
If the district can pass the additional 8.9 mills, the Highland School District will be awarded $6.3 million in partnership from the Commission for Public School Academic Facilities and Transportation for funding to help with building a new high school. In order for the district to receive the funds, they must be able to fund its portion. Highland School District has 1577 students and Lewis explained even if the 8.9 millage were to pass, they would still be below the average.
The district’s millage is currently 30 mills, the third lowest in the state. The state’s uniformed tax rate for school districts is 25 mills with the average across the state 38.93. In 2006, the voters of the district supported a millage increase to construct the A.L. Hutson Center from 28.3 to 30 mills.
He presented a comparison between schools of similar size, all of which were significantly higher, including Cave City, which is also in Sharp County.

What will be
The renderings show 38 new classes including science labs, a vo-ag building to replace the current one that is crumbling and braced, a new cafeteria and kitchen, 900 seat performing arts auditorium for plays and concerts and a library and also for the community to use. Former superintendent Ronnie Brogdon asked if the parking lot at the Hutson Center would be able to be utilized. The parking lot will prevent having to have another lot. It will also be energy efficient, saving the district more money.

Where will it be:
It will sit between the Hutson Center and Elementary School. The older buildings will be torn down. The state requires these be demolished. The CTE building will become the new Pre-K Center. The building where band is will be a maintenance shop and the field house built in 2012 will also remain.

Current issues:
The state explained to the district there is no option to remodel the building. The partnership funds can only be utilized for new construction. There are certain areas in the 60 year old building that simply can’t be repaired or replaced. A slide show depicting the deteriorating condition of some locations within current high school drew a few ewws and ahhs from the audience. Lewis explained when they tore out the stage to expand the cafeteria, the floor under was only dirt. Other issues included photos of the vocational education building and cracks down the back that are braced up on the outside. There have also been multiple plumbing and electrical issues within the building. Door jams are rusting and an area where a fire occurred in a science closet as well as disintegrated cast iron pipes under the kitchen.
Safety concerns with having to leave the building to other areas like band, Agriculture and CTE are also something Lewis said were also concerns.

What will the 8.9 mills cost the taxpayers?

In order to calculate the amount the millage will cost multiply the appraised value of property by 20 percent and then by .089 per month.

What if I don’t have any children in the district?

“There are countless studies that show the school is the heart of the community. The condition of schools is a direct correlation to the condition of your community …crime rates, whether new businesses want to come into your community. All of those things factor into the benefit if you don’t have kids in school,” Lewis explained.
He said he spoke to a man whose children are grown and moved away. He told him he would support the millage issue because when his children in school, there were people who didn’t have kids in school who were paying taxes when his kids were in school. The man told Lewis he felt it was his duty to pay them now that his kids were grown.

How fast can construction begin if millage passes?
If the millage passes in November, the school moves into a bond sale. The new high school will take 8-10 months to design and 20-24 months to construct the building.

What if the millage fails?
Aliza Jones, facilities consultant who was present for the meeting explained what a failed campaign millage might mean. “If the millage fails the first time, the district is notified by the state facilities division, asking if there is anything they can do to assist and if the district is going to go for a second campaign. At a second campaign, if it fails, the division comes back in and says, we need to help you. If the campaign fails a third time, the facilities division can come in and take over. It has happened in the past.”
She went on to explain that the failed millages show the district is not moving forward, the district can lose the partnership funding.

How much will the new high school cost?
The $24.1 million new high school will be financed, conservatively speaking at 4.5 percent on a 28 year term with payments of $1.5 to $1.6 million per year. Lewis explained the millage will only cover the cost of construction and not maintenance, but it was explained that the maintenance cost would likely be less than that of the current high school. Demolition of the old building will also be included in the construction cost.
There will be other meetings for the public on the issue before the Nov. 8 General Election. The district encourages the public to participate and get any questions they may have answered.