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Ringgold residents express displeasure over building plan

NEW EAGLE – Taxpayers again lined up in an effort to get the Ringgold School Board to change its mind about building a new high school.

And, maybe, their voices are being heard.

At Wednesday’s regular monthly meeting, the general consensus from more than a dozen people who spoke out about the proposed school is that times are too tough economically to build a new school and the district should consider fixing what it has instead of investing in a new structure.

By the time the meeting was nearing an end, the board voted to revisit the idea of seeing how much it would cost to renovate the Ringgold Middle School in Finleyville instead of building a new high school.

On the same night that the school board met in executive session to discuss possible acquisition of land for the proposed $45 million high school project, taxpayers were critical of the decision to build.

Even though the board voted 8-1 to have its architect firm, HHSDR, give an updated figure on what it would cost to renovate Ringgold Middle School, board President Denise Kuhn said that does not mean building a new high school is out of the question.

“”I’m not saying that at all,” said Kuhn, who made the motion to look into renovating the middle school.

Director Christopher Carroll cast the lone dissenting vote.

“I could have done with (renovating the middle school) all along,” Kuhn added. “But when we were considering the best way to go, there was no concern about costs. The concern was finding a central location to build.”

“My first question is ‘Why?'” asked resident William Ellis, who served on the school board from 1997-2000. “Close to 30 percent of the people in this district are considered low income and many of those are on fixed incomes.

“Ringgold has enough land and buildings to educate our children in a proper manner,” he added.

Ellis told the board now is not the time to consider such a massive construction project.

“These are not hard times,” he said. “These are the hardest times right now. Consider the impact of this on the people.”

Resident Ken Baumgartner echoed Ellis’ sentiment, saying, “I think this is a terrible, terrible time to do what you’re doing right now.

“The next generation is going to pay for what we’re going to do today,” Baumgartner said. “That’s not right.”

Other residents wondered why the district couldn’t use some money to renovate existing buildings and then use the rest of the money to improve the education for the students.

Some residents claimed that Ringgold’s education efforts are not up to par, while Kuhn defended the work of the district’s teachers.

When resident Art Mitchell asked why the district doesn’t just repair existing buildings, Kuhn responded by saying, “There isn’t a person sitting (on the school board) who wants to build a new school.”

She added that something big needs to be done with the current Ringgold Middle School in Finleyville and that building a new high school and turning the current high school into a middle school was the way the board voted to go.

Kuhn and Director Chuck Smith, who is an opponent of building a new high school, argued on several occasions during the session.

“I said at one time that the cheapest thing to do was to fix Finley,” Kuhn said to Smith. “You didn’t want to do that.”

To that, Smith replied, “That’s not true.”

Karen Daugherty said she thinks building a new school will cost the taxpayers much more than the $45 million price tag.

“Is it going to cost over $100 million?” she asked.

Business manager Randy Skrinjorich replied that he estimates the project will cost $80 million over a 20-year period.

When some residents complained that the costs are already jumping before the first shovel of dirt has been thrown, Skrinjorich said that the total cost should be no surprise.

He said that in any instance of borrowing money there is interest that has to be repaid. He said that the board opted for a 20-year term in order to keep that interest at a minimum.

Resident Bob Smith, the brother of Chuck Smith, then asked Skrinjorich if the project was approved today, how much it would cost the district.

“It could cost over $80 million, right?” Bob Smith asked.

“Yes, it can,” Skrinjorich said.

“You can’t give us a total figure today,” Bob Smith said. “You should have a number to give the board, but you can’t give me what it’s going to cost.”

Chuck Smith reiterated a demand he made at the October meeting for the board to go over a list of options for construction/renovation that was presented in September by the district’s architect.

Kuhn, who earlier in the meeting told one resident she felt it was possible to renovate the middle school, added that she understands the feelings of the taxpayers.

Citing the results of the election – both state-wide and nationally – earlier this month, she said, “Times have changed drastically in the last month and we have to be cognizant of that.”

She said politicians are talking about massive cuts, including cuts in education. Those possibilities have to be taken into consideration, she said.


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