With costs rising, divided Fayette school board postpones building new middle school

The Fayette County school board on Monday postponed indefinitely a proposed new $70.5 million middle school on Polo Club Boulevard in Lexington with a 3-2 vote.

Board chairman Tyler Murphy, and board members Amy Green and Christy Morris voted to table the project. Estimated costs recently rose from $47.2 million.

Stephanie Spires and Tom Jones voted against the postponement, citing the district’s current overcrowded middle schools.

To allow the administration time to “reassess, review and reissue” the bids, Green asked that the approval of the new middle school be “tabled” until a time “that is yet to be determined.”

“This is just a pause (to) re-evaluate the situation so we can move forward,” said Green.

Morris said she wanted to make sure the new middle school didn’t interfere with planned renovations of Henry Clay and Dunbar high schools.

“As far as being good stewards of our taxpayer’s money ... we should wait because the markets are just terribly unstable,” said Morris.

Spires said she was against tabling the project.

“I think we need to move forward,” she said.

Spires and Jones said people in the local construction industry tell them the bids will likely be higher as the project is paused. Spires said people in the financial community tell her interest rates will likely be higher.

“By waiting on this project we are putting ourselves in a dangerous situation,” she said.

Spires said middle schools are struggling with overcrowding and teachers and students are feeling it.

Jones said parents he’s talked to expect that a middle school would be opened on Polo Club Boulevard by 2023. He said he expected “significant push back” if the new middle school does not open by then.

There are several options available to the district to alleviate overcrowding if the new middle school does not move forward, Fayette Superintendent Demetrus Liggins said.

One of those, for example, is allowing students assigned to Jessie Clark Middle School to apply to attend Beaumont Middle School if families provided transportation. Another is redistricting current boundaries to provide relief for middle schools that are over 100 percent capacity.

Murphy said he was in favor of postponing the approval because of the “uncertainty and volatility” in costs.

He said according to data reviewed by board members, other recent new school projects in Kentucky have not seen the same level of increase in costs. He said the “pause” will give the administration more time to assess economic conditions.

Fayette district officials have been trying for years to build a new middle school in the growing residential area of Hamburg.

If the project eventually moves ahead, it would be the first new middle school built by Fayette County Public Schools since Edythe J. Hayes Middle School in 2004, which cost about $18 million for 900 students.

A 49 percent cost increase led Fayette schools board members on Nov. 8 to delay approving the project by a few days. But on Monday, the three board members who wanted to table the project said they want to rebid the planned school.

In spring 2020, Fayette County Public Schools purchased 47 acres of land along Polo Club Boulevard for a new middle school and elementary school.

The middle school was planned for 1,200 students and would be 171,983 square feet in size. Land costs for the Polo Club Middle School were $13.7 million.