Daily Independent (Ashland, KY)

August 1, 2013

Project is a go

After decades of discussion, Verity will get sixth graders

The Independent

ASHLAND — Almost 30 years after first announcing plans to move sixth-graders from the elementary schools to George M. Verity Middle School, construction is expected to begin soon on the renovation of the middle school to make room for this age group.

That will make the alignment of students in the Ashland Independent School District the same as it has been in virtually every school district in Kentucky for many years: kindergarten through fifth grade in elementary schools, sixth- seventh- and eighth-graders in middle schools and ninth- through 12th-graders in high schools.

Plans to move the sixth-graders out of the elementary schools were first unveiled in the early 1980s, when the Ashland Board of Education approved a plan to combine the old Putnam and Coles junior highs into a new  middle school named in honor of Armco Steel pioneer George M. Verity. Funds from the then-newly enacted 3 percent utilities tax were used to build new Hager, Oakview, Charles Russell and Hatcher elementary schools and to renovate and expand Putnam Junior High into Verity Middle School.

At the time, many were led to believe the new Verity school would house sixth-graders, but when that renovation was completed, Ashland school administrators said the building could not accommodate sixth-graders without major changes. Thus, plans to move sixth-graders to the middle school were put on hold until funds could be secured to renovate the building further to house sixth-graders.

Now, more than 20 years later, those long-dormant plans are about to be to be implemented. The school board opened bids for the renovation of Verity last week, and the low bid was just under $12 million. That’s significantly lower than the $12.3 million architects had anticipated, and far below the $14 million originally projected, said Ashland Superintendent Steve Gilmore. That means the school system likely will not only be able to go ahead with the renovation, but also have money left over to fund other capital improvements.

Work likely will begin by the end of August on third-floor classroom renovations and construction of a new gymnasium on the current faculty parking lot site, Gilmore said. Workers already have started preparing the third floor for the renovations, he said.

Once the new gym is complete, work will begin on converting the existing gym into a sixth-grade center. The renovation is expected to take two years, and when it is finished, sixth-graders will move there from the district’s elementaries. The target for adding sixth grade is the 2016 school year.

“We’re excited about what’s going to happen at Verity,” Principal David Greene said. “I’m encouraged to see the process moving forward.”

The construction will cause some inconvenience for students and teachers. Temporary classrooms will be set up in the auditorium, and as work continues, students will move into classrooms as they are completed so work can start in other areas.

The lower-than-expected bids mean the district probably will be able to afford to complete its renovation of Paul Blazer High School, Gilmore said. Buildings 2 and 3 of the multibuilding campus are slated for a makeover with new heating and air conditioning systems, lights and energy-saving windows.

Those who were Ashland elementary school students when plans to move the sixth-graders were first announced are now in their 30s or 40s and have children who are in middle school or older. They can be excused if they had come to think the sixth grade would always be in the elementary schools and Verity Middle School would remain a middle school in name only. But Ashland finally is about to achieve the alignment of students educators have long believed is the most conducive for learning.