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Macon moves along with new high school planning

Designs for the new Franklin High School show a more compact facility with greater square footage than the current school. LS3P photo Designs for the new Franklin High School show a more compact facility with greater square footage than the current school. LS3P photo

The Macon County Board of Commissioners and Board of Education have authorized architectural firm LS3P to submit designs for the new Franklin High School to local and state agencies for review, the next step in a multi-year process toward a new facility.

“We’re ready now,” said County Commission Chairman Jim Tate. 

At a joint meeting of the county commission and school board on Oct. 18, LS3P presented the latest version of plans for the new school which expanded on the site plan laid out this summer. 

Paul Boney from LS3P presented the schematic design for the school. His goals for the project are to create an energy-efficient facility that can be a driver of economic development, safe and inviting for students and faculty and a center for the community. 

“These buildings are tired, most of them are older than me, and I get tired,” said Boney. “I’m telling you, there’s a way that this community can come together, and I know there are a lot of questions, I know there are a lot of answers we are searching for, but we have one common goal here and that’s for the children to be given the best education they can get to compete with other places that I know of and we’re working there. I know the facilities that we build.”

The general site plan for a new high school complex in the same location as the current Franklin High School involves a new stadium, new central buildings and demolition of existing buildings. The entire site will be relatively flat, from the entry road to the back of the main building, a big shift for a campus that is currently varied in elevation, one of many aspects that makes it difficult to navigate for anyone with physical limitations. 

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The new school will all be under one roof, meaning students and staff will not need to exit the structure to get to any part of the school, a move that should enhance overall security. 

The single entry at the front of the school will lead directly into a secure vestibule which is adjacent to the administration offices. From there, the central corridor has access to the auxiliary and full-size gymnasiums, auditorium and cafeteria. The second floor of this main building will contain the media center and guidance offices. 

Connected to the central building will be two, three-story academic wings. The bottom floor will be made up of CTE classrooms for easiest access to equipment and supplies. The second and third floors will hold academic classrooms. In between the central building and the academic wings, plans show a courtyard which will also be accessible through the cafeteria. 

The new school, while on a more compact footprint than the current Franklin High, will contain an estimated 80,000 additional square feet. 

“We’re packing a lot into this space, but providing a much richer experience, a much safer experience,” said Jamie Henderson of LS3P. 

When architects were looking at designing the facility, safety and accessibility were two of the top concerns. Other than the single, secure entry, traffic flow of Panther Drive in the new plans is considered safer than it is at the school now. 

Commissioner Gary Shields, who worked as principal of Franklin High School for 21 years, said that when he is out in the community, he gets a lot of questions like “what’s wrong with the old Franklin High School?” During the joint meeting Oct. 18, commissioners streamed a video that showed some of the difficulties students with physical disabilities face daily when trying to navigate the school. 

“Franklin High School is an old campus with old infrastructure,” Macon County English Teacher and parent Tyler Faetz says in the video. “It’s been here since the 1950s, and one population of students that has been left behind by its infrastructure are students with disabilities. It’s very difficult to navigate our campus, a number of obstructions, uneven pavement surfaces, uneven surfacing on sidewalks, so there are a number of difficulties here for students with disabilities.”

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The current Franklin High School is made up of various buildings at differing elevations. LS3P photo

According to Brooke Keener, director of exceptional children, parents of students with disabilities are often worried about sending their children to the high school because of how hard it is for them to get around. Parents often put it off as long as possible and some avoid it altogether. 

Staff at Franklin High School have to do some intricate planning in order to help each student that needs assistance, or a unique navigation plan, move between classes. Even with that foresight, students often have to leave class early and arrive late to the next. 

“I would like to give every student on campus the opportunity to choose whatever classes they would like to have,” said Franklin High School Principal Mickey Noe. “Currently our classrooms are so spread out, it takes so much time for some of our students to get from one end of campus to the other, it just makes it really difficult and some of our students don’t have the opportunity to take some of the outlying classes.”

The total cost estimate for the project is $118,420,233. The cost of work is estimated at $73,603,998, with an additional $7 million built in for construction contingency and $10 million for cost escalation. After fees and outfitting, the new high school is totaled at just over one hundred million dollars and the stadium project is estimated at $14 million. 

“Every step of the way we refine that budget and we keep you informed of where we are on the budget,” said Boney.  

By unanimous consensus, the county commission authorized LS3P to submit the schematic design package for the Franklin High School and design development for the stadium to local and state agencies for review. 

Election decisions 

Part of the funding for the new high school could come in from revenue of a quarter-cent sales tax. That tax will only be levied if voters so choose. There will be a referendum on the ballot this election; early voting has already begun

“The county, financially, in my opinion, is ready to be able to handle this,” said Tate. “There’s a large elephant in the room; y’all can hear it and smell it. There’s a big election coming up and there’s going to be some new leaders here. That’s why I’m saying my opinion doesn’t really matter, but I’m telling you I’m for it, I’ve been for it for 11 years now, I’m ready to see it happen.”

Tate, who represents District I, is not seeking reelection. Running to replace him are Republican John Shearl and Independent Jerry Moore. Moore is staunchly in favor of the quarter-cent sales tax for the new high school project. Shearl told the Smoky Mountain News he will be supportive of the decision voters make on Election Day regarding the sales tax. As far as the high school project is concerned, Shearl said it is hard to be in favor of something for which he has had no part in the planning. 

“There’s so much more that we have to know about this process,” said Shearl. “I have not been part of the planning for this school.”

“It worries me how hard that I’ve worked, how hard our leadership in this county has worked to try and set us up in this position to finally make this happen,” said Tate. “I hope whoever the new commissioners are moving forward will see it to fruition.”

In District II, incumbents Gary Shields and Ronnie Beale are both running for reelection and both have stated their support for the new high school, as well as the quarter-cent sales tax. Running against the incumbents to represent District II are Danny Antoine and Betty Cloer Wallace. Wallace is in favor of the tax referendum but is critical of the plans for the new high school. According to reporting in The Macon County News, Antoine has stated that he is not in favor of the quarter-cent sales tax to fund the school. 

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