Lakeland discusses funding option for new high school

By Published: January 18, 2019 8:01 AM CT

Lakeland leaders and residents debated the cost and merits of building Lakeland Prep High School during a Thursday evening meeting.

No action was taken during the special called meeting of the Lakeland Board of Commissioners.

Mayor Mike Cunningham pushed during the session for using money the Lakeland Board of Education pledged for the school earlier this week to move forward.

He said the pledged money would put the city in a better position financially over the next two years, and it could then seek financing to finish costs closer to time to break ground in 2021. He hopes to see the school open by the 2022-2023 school year.

“Let’s do it right because I believe our kids deserve it,” said Cunningham, who wants to rescind the start of the new $1.5 million Lakeland Fire Department until a later date in favor of funding for the new high school.

“That takes the pressure off of the city financially," he said. "Because I believe in my heart of hearts that the high school is absolutely much more important than the fire department is.”

The school is not the only expenditure for Lakeland in the coming years, as it is already committed to New Canada Road being finished and must come up with $5 million more to complete that project. Also, a new Clear Creek Sewer connector is needed, which will cost $8 million.

“I believe that with the current prime note that we have on the (existing) middle school, if we can get financially to March of 2021 – to when that penalty on that note goes away – that gives us a little more financial strength in time to grow commercially, like I’ve preached,” Cunningham said. “I believe we can open Lakeland Prep in the 2022-2023 school year.”

Councilman and Vice Mayor Josh Roman laid out options for funding during a presentation that took into consideration the Lakeland Board of Education’s pledge Monday for $2.8 million for debt service over the next four years.

Katie Autry is a parent with a son in the seventh grade at Lakeland Middle.

“Next year will be his last year as a student in the Lakeland School System,” she said. “With at least four new subdivisions going up and The Lake District going up and families moving here for all the wonderful reasons that we live here, it makes total sense to complete the school system.”

Lakeland School System superintendent Ted Horrell argued original plans to build a combined middle and high school would have gotten the most bang for the educational buck.

The combined school would have served both middle and high school students until it squeezed the middle school students out. The hope was that the additional revenue created would allow the school system to put aside capital funds and be able to subsidize additional necessary schools in the future.

When that was voted down, a plan was put in place to build Lakeland Middle School since Arlington Middle was nearing 1,300 students on its campus.

That project ended up costing $20.5 million, but rising construction costs since then have raised estimates for the high school.

Horrell pointed out a big reason to not delay any longer is costs are higher now than when they originally were estimated five years ago.

“Unfortunately, building the high school portion of the Lakeland Prep campus is not the end of the capital needs for the school system,” Horrell said. “We will in the future need an additional elementary school or perhaps an intermediate school.”

Horrell and the Lakeland Board of Education met Jan. 14 and discussed the funding, along with construction costs and timeline estimates for building the new high school.

At that meeting, board member Geoff Hicks called for updating the district’s capital improvement plan to reflect any recent cost changes.

“Do a cost analysis of what it would take to move forward with the high school,” Hicks said. “This board has unanimously expressed our desire to move forward with the high school every year for the last four years, give or take."

Horrell is confident the minimum to finish out the high school is $35 million, with the actual cost probably somewhere between $35 million to $40 million. When planning began five years ago, officials estimated the cost to build the middle school and a high school at $50 million.

Horrell sees construction taking 18 to 24 months once it gets underway.

He suggested the district pay $700,000 per year in debt service for the next four years, or it could contribute a one-time cash payment of $1 million or pay $150,000 per year over the next 30 years.


Lakeland Lakeland School System Education
Michael Waddell

Michael Waddell

Michael Waddell is a native Memphian with more than 20 years of professional writing and editorial experience, working most recently with The Daily News and High Ground News.

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