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Construction begins on Wallins school

Construction is beginning on the $6.59 million Wallins Elementary School addition and renovation project.

Harlan County Schools Superintendent Brent Roark met with faculty and staff this week to explain the timeline and to field questions about construction.

Roark said the 14-month project actually began earlier this week with the arrival of equipment and security fencing. Earthwork will begin Friday, weather permitting.

A ceremonial groundbreaking is being planned.

With completion of the entire project not expected until April 2021, the timeline calls for the new wing opening and classrooms moved during Christmas vacation this year. The old building is to be demolished during that December window and early 2021 as well.

Roark said contingency plans are in place in case issues arise altering the timeline.

Foundation and beams should be underway in late March. Plumbing and electrical work are on the schedule beginning in May.

“The timeline calls for the basic structural construction to be completed by Sept. 8,” he said.

After the old building is razed, final grading work and the main parking area will occur in early 2021.

“This is the only solution right now to keep a school at Wallins,” he said.

“With all the economic distress that our community has faced within the past few years, it is exciting to know that something new, something vibrant is happening in the community of Wallins Creek,” said teacher Darlene Roberts.

“Our students, staff, and families have waited a long time for this development. It is good to know there is a reward to hard work and perseverance. This new addition to our school will serve our students well and it will be a blessing to our area. Thank you for never giving up and putting legs to our needs and vision.”

Roark said when completed, there will be in place two additions built in the 80s and the now under construction in 2020. The new wing will house 11 classrooms, administrative suite, family resource center and other facilities.

With the new construction, the coal-fired furnace will be eliminated. It has been in use for about 80 years and now nearly impossible to find replacement parts for it when it tears up, said Roark.

Codell Construction will have a project manager on site for the duration of the project. The construction manager will work closely with district and school administrators to keep staff and the community abreast of activities taking place.

Roark said he is pleased the new addition will include features compliant with Senate Bill 1 and the mandates for school safety.

Teachers reviewed the architect’s drawings during the meeting.

Board of Education Chairman Gary Farmer, who has been instrumental in the push to see a newer, updated facility for the Wallins area, and Roark fielded questions.

Also attending the meeting was Bristol Belcher, who served as Wallins principal for about 10 years and now the federal programs director at the central office, and William A. ”Bill” Lee, who was principal at the school from 1985 to 1990.

Roark said to expect some inconveniences during construction, including elimination of staff parking underneath the primary wing.

The district’s bonding potential is being utilized for the project. No bonding money could be expended on the old main building because of its location in the flood plain.

Lisa Slusher, guidance counselor, said, “This new addition will be great for our students. After being here as a teacher, librarian and counselor for the past 31 years, I am so happy for our students and I’m excited personally to be able to finish my career in a new and improved building. Our students deserve this, and I’m looking forward to seeing the excitement on their faces when they enter this new building for the first time.”

Principal Stan Nicely echoed her remarks.

“I am thrilled about the new addition that our new school will be receiving over the next few months. As a former student, teacher, and current principal at Wallins, this school is a part of me. As I went to many of our classes this week to speak with students about the addition, I was so happy to see their faces light up with excitement.”

Nicely said he can’t wait for the students “to see the finished product and to have what they so richly deserve. I’m also thankful that the Harlan County school board and Mr. Roark have made this commitment to our school to ensure that Wallins Elementary will be a part of this community for years to come.”

Teacher Robert Simpson has been an advocate for the project for several years. He has served on the district’s facilities committee and realized well the challenges in seeing the project come to fruition.

“Our staff and students are excited to see this project get underway. This has been needed for many years. This new addition is going to bring a new excitement to our students and will provide them with a much more comfortable learning environment,” said Simpson. “I can’t wait to see this addition opened for our students and our community.”

Mary Beth Fisher is a former Wallins student and current teacher. She too expressed excitement for the students.

“I believe the new addition will stand as a tribute to students past, present and future,” she said. “The heart and soul of our school has always been to see our students grow and succeed, and I think that the new addition will breathe new life into our learning environment here at Wallins. It is exciting to think that our students will not only know the past value of this outstanding school, but will be able to experience ongoing success in our community.”

Parents and community members with questions or concerns during the project are encouraged to contact Nicely at the school or Roark at the central office by calling 573-4330.