The Hawkins County School Board informally agreed last week to sell Keplar Elementary and reuse McPheeters Bend, but the final decision will be made at Thursday’s regular monthly board meeting.
The BOE held a facilities workshop on January 27, during which about an hour of discussion was devoted to the two small rural schools that were closed at the end of the 2020-21 school year.
The reason given for the closures was to save money. Neither school exceeded 100 students, which meant that their faculty and principal salaries were not eligible for state BEP funding.
Another cost saving was for potential repairs and renovations needed at both schools.
Principal of Schools Matt Hixson presented the BOE with options for each school at the January 27 workshop.
The option informally chosen by the BOE for Keplar was to sell the facility, giving priority to a community resource or church. Hixson noted that a nearby church has already expressed interest in buying Keplar.
As for McPheeters Bend, the BOE has informally agreed to reallocate this school to various uses, including:
Create an alternative school for the upper county; tutoring for students online.
An upper end satellite office for the school system‘s family resource center.
Professional development and library for educators.
Classes for adults in the evening.
Storage of the “Bibliobus” of the school network during its commissioning.
After-hours training for volunteer firefighters and other first responders, including the possible construction of outdoor training structures.
Reorientation of McPheeters Bend
The BOE has offered to recommend retaining McPheeters Bend until at least the 2022-23 school year for the above purposes. At the end of 2022-23, the BOE will reassess the facility and its usefulness against the cost of maintenance.
Maintenance manager Shannon Glass noted that the McPheeter Bend roof is nearing the end of its expected life. If the building is to continue to be used, it will eventually need a new roof which is estimated to cost over $200,000.
The kitchen section is currently leaking and will need a roof ASAP.
The kitchen also requires plumbing work if it is to take over commercial cafeteria services. Hixson noted, however, that they would deliver prepared meals to another school if students use that facility all day, similar to an alternate school.
Board member Judy Trent said her constituents in District 7 (Bulls Gap, Persia, St. Clair) said if Keplar was sold, they wanted McPheeters Bend sold.
“We told the students it wasn’t cost effective for them to use,” Trent said. “But, we’re going to turn around and we’re going to use it for something else, for us.”
Hixson explained that the main cost savings for McPheeters Bend were the elimination of faculty salaries without offsetting state BEP funding. Estimated annual savings for faculty alone were approximately $500,000.
Hixson further stated that none of the proposed new uses for McPheeters Bend require additional positions. Any student use of this building would utilize existing staff.
“I’m not saying that (the reuse of McPheeters Bend) is a need,” Hixson said. “If we have it, we’ll put it to good use, and it will benefit students – especially those at the high school level – and provide them with services they haven’t had at the upper end of the county.”
Board chairman Chris Christian, who represents the community of McPheeters Bend, said he would like to give the alternative satellite school, online student tutoring and other uses of the facility a year.
“Keep McPheeters Bend in the fold this year and next year, and try to see what benefits come from keeping him in the fold,” Christian said. “Reevaluate at that time (late 2022-23), and at that time, if we exceed it, we exceed it. If it is a very positive thing for our system, taxpayers and our community, we take advantage of it.
Preparation of Keplar for sale
There had been earlier discussions about whether the sale of the eight-acre Keplar building and property should include solar panels, which generate $1,750 a year for the school system.
The BOE agreed that the sale of the property would include these panels, passing on any revenue they generate to the buyer.
Hawkins County still has approximately $2.17 million in outstanding low-interest loans under the Qualified School Construction Bond (QSCB) program. These loans were used for several HVAC projects in the county school system, including Keplar and McPheeters Bend.
If the school is sold, loan funds used at that school must be transferred to a school currently in use.
The exact amount of this $2.2 million loan balance that can be attributed to Keplar has not yet been determined. Hixson explained that the BOE has the option of using unpaid QSCB loan funds awarded to Keplar for an upcoming HVAC project that will take place at Hawkins Elementary.
New federal COVID ESSER funding recently set aside to pay for this elementary Hawkins HVAC project could then be transferred to pay for another project, Hixson noted.
The council also proposed to specify that the Keplar property be purchased by a church, community resource or similar agency for the benefit of the community. The council has also proposed that if no such entity comes forward to buy the property, it will open the sale to the general public.
Final votes on these proposals are expected to take place at the February 3 meeting of the BOE which begins at 6 p.m.