Monday, January 22, 2018

A New Johnson Elementary School: What You Need to Know


A town hall held at Johnson Elementary School Sunday night provided some insight about the design process, the funding challenges and some takeaways for stakeholders who are trying to help the two-time Blue Ribbon School award winner obtain the necessary funding during this legislative budget session.

Dr. Karen Cheser moderated the forum. Panelists included Sen. Wil Schroder, Rep. Joe Fischer, architect Joe Hayes and Fort Thomas Education Foundation Board Chair, Amy Shaffer.

The craftsman, bungalow-style school would look marginally different from the other two renovated elementary schools in Fort Thomas, said Cheser.

"We wanted it to fit within the character of the neighborhood," she said.

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Gone would be the antiquated, California-style open-air campus, that students must sometimes traverse through conditions to get from class to class. Instead, there would be one contiguous building that would still fit within the same real estate footprint that school currently holds. There would be a flood of natural light that will flow in through the back glass windows, more parking and a drop-off circle around back.


"It's about a two-year project. Twelve months for first phase and another 12-14 months for second phase," said Hayes. "The kitchen, cafeteria, entry hall, mechanical room and main infrastructure would be built first if funding were obtained."

The project will cost $22 million dollars, but there is currently a funding gap of around $16.5 million needed to complete the project. With shovel-ready plans ready to go thanks to a forward-thinking school board, Hayes said that demolition and construction could start if there were $11 million dollars in the coffers.

So how do you get there?

Cheser said that district stakeholders are attempting to get the bonding capacity ramped up by statute.

"We're hopeful for another $5.5 million," she said. "We're look at this as equalization money."

Fischer said that the challenges were plentiful and that the district has their work cut out for them, but  it's a possibility that money could be available during this legislative session. He estimated that there will be $58 million dollars that would be earmarked for school construction over the next four years.

"I went to kindergarten here in 1960 and it was pretty rundown then. Now it's 96 years old," said Fischer. "To say that it's long overdue is an understatement. I don't think there is  another school district in the state that would be willing to bond half of the project, like there is in Fort Thomas."

Schroder said that he has talked with his colleagues in Frankfort that have told him that this is the toughest budget they have ever seen.

"Anything we do is going to impact other programs," he said. "Right now, we're trying to figure out how much we'll have available in bond revenue. We're constantly tinkering with the budget to come up with something that's agreeable to everyone." 

Schroder, who is on the Senate Appropriations and Revenue Committee, said that calling all members of the Senate and House A&R Committees, not just his office, would help the district's cause.

"If a senator in Clay County, Kentucky can see how important this issue is to my constituents, it makes it easier to try and get something done," he said.

Shaffer said calls to the legislators on those committees, as well as attending the Northern Kentucky Legislative Caucus at Highlands High School would help stakeholders who want to see construction money opened up, move the ball forward.

The caucus, which is typically held at Northern Kentucky University, was moved to Highlands recently. It is being held at the Performing Arts Center on Saturday, February 3,

"It's quite literally going to be a home-field advantage for us," said Shaffer. "If we could fill up the PAC with our community, that would be very impactful."

Shaffer also mentioned the impact that giving to the Fort Thomas Education Foundation could have on the legislators.

"Private contributions demonstrates strong community support and helps our legislators know that we are doing everything we can to fund the project," she said. "But we still need their help."

To view the town hall in its entirety, watch the district's Facebook live stream here:


The "How YOU Can Help" one-pager that was left for each attendee is here (click to view larger in separate window):


Renderings of the school were on display:









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