The Daviess County Public School board voted Thursday in favor of a site for the new 900-student Daviess County Middle School to be completed in August 2021. After more than 18 months of site considerations — 14 to be exact — DCPS plans to build the new middle school on the east side of the Gateway Commons property in the highly-desired Highway 54 corridor.
The 43-acre lot will be a combination of 20 acres of “shovel-ready” Gateway Commons land at $260,000 per acre and 23 acres of the Settles Estate at $115,000 per acre, valued at $7.85 million when combined. The gross investment for DCPS is $5.9 million, a 25 percent discount from the appraised value.
The $5.9 million investment will be offset by the $1.4 million sale of the existing DCMS property at 1415 E. 4th St. to Owensboro Grain and the potential sale of Highland Elementary School, which Re/Max has estimated to be $4.5 million for its 15 acres.
According to Daviess County Superintendent Matt Robbins, relocating Highland is a long-term goal, but is not yet outlined on the current priority facility plan. But the new DCMS site has land allotted on the Calumet Trace end of the property to build Highland.
Robbins also confirmed that the future DCMS location and the potential relocation of Highland will not require district rezoning.
“Uprooting children from where they are attending school is brutal,” Robbins said of rezoning. “That doesn’t have a dollar amount associated with it, but it’s literally priceless.”
The seller, Settles Estate, will construct a three-lane driveway, connecting the north intersection of Hayden Road and Highway 603 to the new DCMS site. Fairview Drive through The Downs neighborhood could potentially be connected to that drive, but is not a part of the DCMS construction plan.
Finding a new location for the middle school was a challenge, admits Robbins. With Whitesville, East View, Meadow Lands and Highland elementary schools feeding DCMS, Robbins said the new middle school needed to be central to these four schools on Daviess County’s east end.
Robbins said that the high voltage OMU electric lines in the desired area made finding a location difficult, and became a filter when looking at the 14 sites.
But the biggest obstacle, according to Robbins, was passing traffic studies required by city, county and state engineers, given that a 900-student school would significantly increase traffic volume to the already busy east side.
“In several cases, roads that did not exist were required to be constructed or existing two-lane roads were inadequate and unsafe to handle the traffic load,” Robbins said.
In addition to the acreage being centrally located, 50 percent of the land has already been graded by Gateway Commons developers, and access to US-60 — the former bypass — proves an ideal, long-term solution for traffic flow.
Robbins said that the school’s location will also spur economic development.
“Schools attract outsiders,” Robbins said. “When an academic team, sports team, robot or social club has a competition, it attracts visitors from near and far. Locating the school in a dynamic and functional corridor shows off what Daviess County has to offer. When visitors or even daily patrons of the new school have such convenient access to shopping and entertainment, they spend money or stay for a meal, which drives the economic impact of locating the school in that vicinity.”
While ample space for Highland was not a make-or-break condition for the new DCMS site, it is an efficient and economic decision, according to Robbins.
“With two of the four feeder elementary schools located within eyesight of the new DCMS, we will create a community feel, too,” Robbins said.
Other combination school sites include the Deer Park Elementary and College View Middle campus as well as Burns Elementary and Middle campus, which are both 42 acres each. Robbins said these two examples can give the community a good sense of the land and green space envisioned for the new project.
According to Robbins, two major reasons for the need to relocate Highland are the safety and traffic concerns of its Hwy. 54 road-front location.
“When the 54 widening project begins, a small portion of the front yard at Highland will be taken. We are being encroached upon from every angle possible,” Robbins said, noting the construction of the new Malco Theater in Highland’s backyard.
It is this commercial development that makes finding school property on the east end in the future, even in the next five years, difficult and expensive, Robbins said, noting that land on Owensboro’s east side averages $100,000 per acre.
“Economically, it was much smarter to obtain the property well in advance, securing adequate land in a space not requiring rezoning families and long-term saving dollars and large property acquisition challenges,” Robbins said.
Despite board approval Thursday, the new DCMS site is subject to Kentucky Department of Education approval. But Robbins said KDE actually visited the last four sites DCPS considered, and chose the Gateway Commons and Settles Estate property combination as the best overall option.
Robbins said the original goal was to welcome students to the new DCMS location in August 2020, but that would have required DCPS to purchase a property last fall. The adjusted welcome date for students is August 2021.
“This gives us ample time to build the school to be what we want — to fit our needs and the needs of the community,” Robbins said.