Union School Corporation

Opinion: Christian Co. board must consider growing, second-largest town in community when deciding where to build new schools

Kentucky New Era, Hopkinsville, Sept. 6, 2013

Where is Oak Grove in school construction plan?

Christian County’s second largest town has effectively disappeared from public discussions about where the school system should invest money for the district’s largest building projects. It is a familiar oversight for the town of Oak Grove and an expensive problem for the school board.

However, before the district moves ahead with a major addition at Pembroke Elementary School, it is appropriate to review the quandary.

In the mid-1990s, when it was time to rebuild South Christian Elementary School, leaders in Oak Grove made a strong case for moving the school several miles south to their town. Then and now, the majority of South Christian’s students lived in Oak Grove. Most of them are the children of Fort Campbell soldiers.

The best decision for the majority of the school’s students would have been to build in Oak Grove, but that did not happen. Faced with the objections of a small but influential farming community that cherished its ties to the rural school, members of the school board did not want to move South Christian. The district spent $6 million to build a fine school that today remains surrounded by farms just outside of Herndon.

A few years later, the 2000 Census determined Oak Grove was the second fastest growing town in Kentucky. The growth came from young military families. They have bought hundreds of new homes in Oak Grove subdivisions, and today they are the parents of more than 75 percent of the students at South Christian and more than half of the students at Pembroke. Oak Grove still doesn’t have a school because no one has been able to solve the financial mistake made nearly 20 years ago. An Oak Grove school is not included among the construction priorities outlined in the District Facilities Plan that was adopted early this year.

Now there’s another complication. At a meeting Monday night, the school board agreed to realign elementary and middle school grades. Sixth-graders will shift from middle schools back to elementary schools as soon as the district can enlarge Pembroke Elementary.

It seems like a logical decision because it will allow the district to reduce the number of middle schools from three to two.

The shift has a domino effect. It requires a major addition at Pembroke, and that appears to ensure another delay in addressing the needs of most of the students. They live in Oak Grove.

The school board might eventually decide there is no way around this problem. The district’s bonding capacity now stands at $19 million, which is enough to build one elementary school. If the school board can muster enough community support for a nickel property tax devoted to construction projects, the district estimates it could increase its bonding capacity to $50 million.

There’s also the replacement of Hopkinsville High School looms in the next several years, along with questions of whether the school board should combine the two high schools.

Meanwhile, the second largest town in the county will probably continue to grow. That fact should be more prominent in the school board’s decision about how to spend millions of dollars on construction at Pembroke and at other schools.

Kentucky New Era editorials are the consensus opinion of the editorial board, which  includes Publisher Taylor W. Hayes, Opinion Editor Jennifer P. Brown and Editor Eli Pace.