In Depth: Back To School Means Back To Construction Zone For Many

LEXINGTON, Ky. – Kids moving through the halls. Teachers going over class rules. These are the sights and sounds typically associated with back to school.

At Tates Creek Middle School, students are also dealing with a recently started construction project. Principal Greg Quenon explains how the former front office is gone, and there's a huge hole where the back cafeteria wall used to be.

Tates Creek Middle is one of eleven construction and renovation projects underway across Fayette County Public Schools. Five more are in the planning phase. The total cost of these current projects, including the ones still in early development, is around $200 million.

At nearly $19-million, the Tates Creek Middle project is one of the most drastic. An entire section of the school is now a construction zone, pushing 7th and 8th grade students into outdoor portables.

Portables are modular classroom buildings outfitted with the basics air conditioning, desks, and a white board. It's not a primitive one-room school house, but Language Arts Teacher Natalie Anderson says her portable does lack some of the modern tools her old classroom had.

"Well I don't have a laptop and a projector or the document camera in here, but right now we're fine with an overhead. Anything I could do on that I can get done with an overhead it just may make a little more work for me. It can all get done the same and it's gonna be okay."

The portables aren't far from the main building, but school officials supplied every Tates Creek student, like Seventh Grader Lilly Arevalo with a map.

"They gave us a layout of a school, like where we were supposed to go and stuff. Sometimes the classes are inside, then you have to walk outside and inside."

Across town at Arlington Elementary, teachers have also been working outside their normal environment. But unlike most projects, Arlington was able to temporarily move into an old school building that was no longer being used.

"It's very helpful because we're not having to deal with the noise level; we're not having to deal with a lot of things for construction. Traffic sometimes can be a problem I know at those sites, so we've not had to deal with those types of the things," says Arlington Principal Kim Lippert.

Still, Lippert says teachers, students, and parents are eager to move from the old Johnson Elementary building to their renovated space, which should happen sometime in October. Until then, school officials are urging them to look at the big picture.

"It'll be well worth the wait. The building, I've had the opportunity to go in it quite a bit when I go to meetings, it's going to be an absolute beautiful building once we get in."

Having worked through several construction and renovation projects over the years, Fayette County Public Schools has seen the various problems that can arise, including repairing underground utility lines, weather delays, and power outages. Mary Wright adds that a number of contingency plans are in place to prevent major setbacks, and she says the safety of students, staff, and construction workers is always the top priority.

Thanks to Lexington's school nickel-tax on property values, Wright says Fayette County Public Schools can continue its aggressive facilities program. Most school buildings will be updated within the next six years, then the district will begin renovating buildings constructed 20 to 30 years ago.