Letcher County Public Schools Supt. Anna Craft has been looking for ways to fund a new vocational and technical school building for at least nine years. She has made several trips to Frankfort and has placed countless telephone calls to local and state government officials reminding them of the importance of a state-ofthe art facility.
“Craft was selected (as superintendent) in the fall of 2001 and from that point up until today she has had a vision,” said Terry Sturgill, director of special projects for the school district. “She had a vision for the Letcher County school system and she certainly had a vision for our high school system.”
Several years ago Craft urged the Letcher County Board of Education to purchase about 100 acres of mountainous land at Ermine to build a high school to house all students in the public school district. After about a million tons of rock had been excavated from the site, at least 25 acres of flat land were prepared for future construction projects. The first project on the list was consolidating Fleming-Neon, Letcher and Whitesburg high schools into Letcher County Central High School.
“She was a strong person who had the will to conquer consolidation,” said Sturgill. “That was a tough ordeal here because it was 20 years kicking that (idea) around. Finally after Supt. Craft got ahold of it, it became a real thing.”
From the beginning of the campus plans, land located to the left of the LCCHS building was reserved for a new Letcher County Area Technology Center. As Craft located additional funding sources, construction costs continued to increase, leaving Craft to search for more funding.
“That was a very questionable thing as to when the funds would be available,” said Sturgill. “The (high) school was finished in March 2006 and through that progress Ms. Craft was constantly working toward the funding of the vocational school.”
Sturgill said some school administrators almost gave up on finding funding but not Craft.
“We all got down and decided that we had banged our heads enough and run out of excuses,” said Sturgill. “We just kind of wanted to give up. Ms. Craft said ‘No, no. I got a couple of phone calls I need to make’.”
Craft kept looking for funding and in December the board decided to move forward with its plans to build a 50,000 square-foot center, which will connect to the LCCHS building with a pedestrian walkway. Total cost of the project is about $8.9 million.
“The uniqueness of the situation of the vocational school can be traced to the diff erent funding sources,” said Roger Martin, district finance officer.
Funding includes $4 million from the General Assembly and $1 million in multi-county coal severance money from Letcher, Knott, Harlan and Pike fiscal courts. Funding also includes a bond sale of $3,275,000 from the school facilities construction commission office of assistance, $585,000 from the school facilities construction commission urgent needs, $585,000 from the Letcher County Schools Education Foundation urgent need matching grant, and $1,023,000 from the Letcher County Board of Education with bond sales, investments and sale of property.
A groundbreaking ceremony was held Aug. 6 to begin the construction process of the new vocational school, but Craft was unable to attend because she was home recovering from a heart procedure. Craft had a heart attack Aug. 3 and received two stents during a procedure at Hazard Appalachian Regional Hospital.
“It makes a little cloud over this whole thing that Anna is not here because it was her vision,” said Sturgill. “It’s a part of her vision and her vision is not finished. We have some more things to build here and I know it is her intention to do so. We want her to get well and get back so she can keep us all in line. She is a great leader and she has certainly led the Letcher County school system in the right direction.”
Letcher County School Board member Dr. Sam Quillen Jr. expressed sadness that Craft, a lifelong friend of his, couldn’t be at the groundbreaking ceremony.
“We just hope and pray she is going to back with us really soon,” said Quillen. “I think Anna could have been planted in Letcher County at the right place and right time to help us do some things that I don’t know if anyone else could have ever done.”
The Rev. Elwood Cornett, who is president of the Letcher County Education Foundation, said he doubts anyone realizes the efforts Craft put into the vocational school construction project.
“It has been tremendous,” said Cornett. “There have been times that she has whispered to me pray. And there have been other times when she has said ‘let’s pray now’.”
State Sen. Johnny Ray Turner, who Craft has called on many times, describes Craft as a bulldog because she never gave up on finding funding for the vocational school.
“She stayed after me hot and heavy to try to get some funding,” said Turner. “She has worked tirelessly to try to get the money rounded up to finish this project. It is a well-deserved project.”
State Rep. Leslie Combs also touted Craft for her determination of making the vocational school a reality.
“I have grown to respect her and what she has accomplished,” said Combs. “Besides the high school itself and the tremendous accomplishments that have been made, this was truly a day that I know she has been waiting on. I do look forward to the day that we’re cutting the ribbon with her standing right in the center with the scissors in her hand.”
Aaron Kincer, one of Craft’s three children, spoke on behalf of Craft at the ceremony and thanked a long list of people for their roles in the project.
“While she couldn’t be here in person, her heart is here with each and every one of you,” said Kincer. “On her behalf I would like to thank Gov. Beshear, the county judges and fiscal courts of our neighboring counties of Harlan, Knott and Pike who joined with Judge Ward and our local fiscal court to secure the final million dollars needed for the project. Special thanks to Sen. Johnny Ray
Turner, who has been so instrumental since the beginning of this vision. Also, a special thanks to Leslie Combs and her predecessor Howard Cornett who also worked diligently on this project, the city governments and mayors of Whitesburg, Jenkins and Fleming-Neon who assisted whenever called upon.
“My mother, along with the Letcher County Board of Education and her staff , Barbara Ison, Danny Vance and the staff of the Letcher County Area Technology Center would like to express their indebtedness to Don Childers and my mother’s dear friend Lois Baker, Rev. Elwood Cornett, the Letcher County Public School Education Foundation and the Letcher County Planning Commission.”
After the facility is completed in about 15 months, Martin said approximately $36 million will have been spent from site purchase to site preparation to all the construction projects with equipment and furnishings.
“What an accomplishment that can be traced directly to Supt. Craft who never gave up on her vision,” said Martin.
Athletic fields for softball, soccer, track and tennis still remain in the plans as well as a putting green for golf. Martin said these projects will cost about $4 million to complete.