The Christian County Board of Education has approved the first steps in a likely three-year process that would create one consolidated high school on the south side of Hopkinsville.
Meeting Thursday night, the board voted 3-to-2 to submit a building and grounds form called the BG-1 to state officials for plans to construct a high school with a capacity for 2,500 students. It would combine Hopkinsville and Christian County high schools, along with the career and tech school, Gateway Academy. State education officials have to sign off on the plan.
Board chairman Tom Bell and members Tiffany Mumford Brame and Jeff Moore voted in favor of consolidation. Mike Walker and Lindsey Clark voted against the plan, which Superintendent Chris Bentzel advanced through several months of meetings, planning sessions and community forums.
“As someone who has been here in our community for a while, I do know that change is hard, especially for high school folks, but it is sometimes necessary,” Assistant Superintendent Josh Hunt said. “The idea of consolidating very tradition-rich high schools, it is a major paradigm shift for all of us. … It took some of us longer than others to get to that being a worthy idea.”
But Hunt became an enthusiastic advocate for the consolidation plan.
The idea for a consolidated high school grew out of discussions about what to do with aging buildings at Hopkinsville and Christian County high schools. Both would need to be replaced but the district had struggled for years to come up with enough funding for two high schools at the same time.
In meetings with different groups, Bentzel said it was unfair to students to make one high school wait several years after another to get its new facility.
Brame said the district had been “stuck on traditions” too long and it was time to give students opportunities that their peers in other parts of the state have.
Advocates of the plan say one larger high school will create more services, from advanced placement courses to special needs classes, for all students while eliminating inequities and duplication of services. Opponents spoke about a reduction in extracurricular activities, such as replacing two football teams with one. Bentzel countered that the district will be able to offer new sports teams and other activities that it currently cannot do at two high schools.
“This is not a popularity contest. It takes courage. It takes leadership to take your young people to a place they have never been before,” Bell said.
The district is in a position to become “a first-rate community” that would attract new residents and keep others from leaving, he said.
Moore referred to a racial gap between the people who opposed the consolidation, who were mostly white, and the people the schools serve, who are more diverse.
“Our hallways didn’t look like our forums,” he said.
Walker and Clark said their constituents were largely opposed to consolidation, but both said after the vote that they would support the changes going forward.
After the vote to approve the facility plan for a consolidated school, the board voted 4-to-1 to secure an option on an 87-acre tract at Fort Campbell Boulevard and Lovers Lane. Walker was the only member who voted against the land deal.
The site is on the side of Lovers Lane closest to the Murray State University regional campus. That proximity will be an advantage in offering dual-credit classes, said Hunt.
The land option gives the board until Dec. 23 to purchase the acreage for $6 million.
The land was previously prepared for a retail development that was not realized. The fact that water, sewer, gas and electric access are already in place will save the district in site work, said Hunt.
District officials estimate the new school will cost $115 million. The district would use $70 million in bonding capacity, plus $32 million in federal coronavirus relief money. Grant money would complete the financing package.
Some of the federal money must be spent by the fall of 2024, and district administrators have said the school would be ready to open by the start of the 2024-25 school year.
The name and mascot of the new school remains to be determined.