A new era in education got its start last week as the Lincoln County Board of Education ceremonially broke ground on the future campus of Blanche School and on the current campus of Lincoln County High School where a new STEM wing will be built.
The groundbreakings followed a called meeting of the Lincoln County Commission Tuesday evening, a meeting during which commissioners unanimously granted the school board’s request that they commit to maintaining at least its current level of funding for the 177 education project fund. That would mean the county would at least allocate $360,000 a year to the fund, which currently stands at $1.638 million for the next one to two years.
That will help school system bridge the $2.67 million gap between the guaranteed maximum price of $22.49 million for both the Blanche and LCHS projects, and the $25.86 million total package cost of both projects, including expenses to date and items not included in the contract.
Committing to the current level of funding for the 177 education project fund is much better than the alternative of borrowing the funds, officials said, noting interest and the city’s share of any funds borrowed would add $667,000 to $800,000 to costs.
The special meeting was necessitated because bids would have expired prior to the County Commission’s regular September meeting.
A large show of community support was on hand Saturday morning as county officials gathered at the site of what will become the new Blanche School, 103-acre tract located at 1507 Ardmore Hwy., about a mile and a half east of the current school.
The event got underway with performances by the Blanche band and then the school’s cheerleaders, following a pancake breakfast hosted by boosters and Fowler Auction. Michael Cothren offered a prayer for the new school.
“This morning, we’re blessed with the weather and this breeze,” said Christy Wright, Blanche principal, thanking the booster club and Fowler Auctions, and going on to encourage membership in the boosters as they begin raising money to help build a new football facility on the grounds. “I want to take this opportunity this morning to thank Dr. [Bill] Heath, our school board members, and our county commissioners for recognizing the need for a new Blanche School and making it a reality.”
“It is an exciting morning, and as your superintendent, it just makes me feel so great to see this kind of support and community involvement,” said Heath. “... There are several graduates from Blanche High School here, and there are a lot of folks here who have gone to our school, and I believe without a doubt, 100-percent of everyone is excited about the opportunities for our kids here as this new school gets built, how beautiful it’s going to be and how proud we’re going to be of the new school when it opens up.
“A little over two years ago, we started this journey,” he said. “We looked at our capital projects plans and replacing the current facility at Blanche was at the top of the list. I’ve been a superintendent for 20 years, and this is the fastest, quickest, that I’ve ever seen a building project happen in a school system, and I think that speaks a lot about the people involved and the trust they have for each other ... There’s a great deal to be said about the speed of trust — it makes things happen. I’m very proud to be a part of this today.”
Tommy Stevenson, chair of the Lincoln County Board of Education, introduced members of the board and continuing, eluded to the heritage and tradition of Blanche School across its 70-year history.
“Truly the Blanche School is woven into the fabric of this community,” Stevenson said. “Time has changed since 1939, but it has not affected the sense of family, faith and commitment of Blanche School to the students. We’re constructing a building for education, which is tangible, but Blanche – the intangibles are also a part of this building, in character, spirit and perseverance.
“As these students align with us to ceremonially break ground today, it is also a day that they will begin to build something else, and that is memories. They can say ‘I was here when the sign went up’, ‘I was there for the groundbreaking’, ‘I was there when the building opened’. This is truly the result of partnering with many ... The school board wants to thank our finance department, our county commission, Mayor [Bill] Newman, and the taxpayers of Lincoln County for their support of our students.”
Sammy Tucker, the District One representative on the County School Board, recalled the talk of a new school for the community when he was elected to the board two years ago.
“We stand today at the new home of the new Blanche School,” he said. “ I would like to thank a few fellow board members, Dr. Heath, Christy Wright, Dawn Parton, Mayor Bill Newman, our county commissioners, our teachers and staff at Blanche School, and the people of this community for their support and making this dream a reality for our students.
“I count it a blessing to be a part of this day, and I can’t wait to see what the future holds for our Blanche Bulldogs,” Tucker added. “In closing, I would like to leave you with two very important words for all former, present and future Blanche students – Go Dogs!”
“A new school building is not going to make a great school,” said Mayor Newman, also eluding to Heath’s comments about speed of trust. “What will make a great school is this right here – the community that supports it, and from the turnout today, I know it’s going to be a great school.
“Seventy years ago, when the high school was built, things looked a lot different,” he said. “As I drove down 110 today, I thought about 70 years ago, when there were 50 more dairies in Blanche – today there’s zero. No one had ever heard of corn producing 200 bushels per acre as it is today. There are a lot of things that will change in the next 70 years, but ... the character of this community, the trust you have in the teachers, in the people that have taught your children, will not change.
“You have some great commissioners,” he added, referring to county commissioners representing the district. “This would not have happened without Steve Graham, Darren Walker, and David Sanders – they stepped in there, and because of the trust the commission has in all three of them, this got to be funded.”
Heath also recognized Ricky Bryant, facilities and maintenance supervisor for the system and also a Lincoln County commissioner.
A good show of support was also on hand at Lincoln County High School, where officials broke ground early Wednesday afternoon for a wing that will house state-of-the-art science labs as well as additional classrooms.
“Back in 1979 this school opened,” said Dr. Bill Heath, director of county schools, noting that both he and Tommy Stevenson, current school board chairman, were students at LCHS at the time. “Everything was state of the art. Mr. Stevenson and I were students that year, so we were able to experience the opening of a brand new school. It was an exciting time.
“That was 1979, and in 2003, which was about 25 years later, there was a plan to put a new wing at the high school up on the north end, and it was going to be a science wing,” he continued. “... It didn’t happen, so now we are 16 years beyond that, the 40th year of Lincoln County High School, and we’ve finally put things into place, into motion, that we will begin building a wing that will have state-of-the-art science labs and some classrooms in that space.”
The school will also undergo renovations, including additional security features at the front entrance, Heath said, going on to describe another area that will become home to the school’s Adm. Frank B. Kelso Naval Cadet Corps, which he plans to ultimately become a full-fledged ROTC program in a couple of years.
The timeline calls for the wing and renovations to be completed in time for the start of school next year, he said.
Introducing board members and others present, Stevenson talked about ongoing partnerships LCHS has with NASA and military readiness factions at Redstone Arsenal, saying an evolving workforce offers many employment opportunities for LCHS grads in the areas of science, technology, engineering and math.
“Your school board and your administration wanted to embrace these opportunities to the fullest,” he said, adding their goal is to align collaboration, creativity, critical thinking, communication skills and other attributes with the needs of that workforce. “The school board wants to thank our finance department, the county commission, Mayor Newman, and the taxpayers of Lincoln County for their support of our students.”
“You all can go anywhere in the world and not be embarrassed, because you are getting an education that allows you to compete with anybody anywhere,” said Mayor Bill Newman, challenging students to become involved in public service. “We are all the result of that, so be proud of your education, respectful of the people you’re going to school with, and be honest about everything that you’re doing.”
“I just want to say on behalf of our administration, our faculty and staff, and our students, thank you to Dr. Heath and our district office, our board members, county commission, our mayor and Mr. [Ricky] Bryant, just thank you for seeing us through,” said Billy Owens, LCHS principal. “Our mayor talked about a world class facility and the opportunity for a world class education ... We talked about that the first day of school ... That is our goal, for you to have the opportunity to get a world-class education. It’s a great day, and we’re looking forward to putting that shovel in the ground.”
Student Body President Hannah Stout also spoke, thanking officials for making the addition a reality – “Even though I won’t be a student here when it’s finished, I’m still excited to see the education that you all will be receiving,” she said, adding that the wing will change the facility for the better.
“The challenge that you’re going to have over the next 12 months is maintaining a regular school year with construction going on,” added Heath as he spoke to student, urging them to stay focused throughout the remainder of the year.