The old Jenkins High School building may soon be turned into senior citizen housing.
The Letcher County Fiscal Court has entered into a 35-year lease with AU Associates of Lexington that will allow the old Jenkins School to be converted into apartments for senior citizens. At its February meeting, the court voted unanimously to agree to lease the old school to AU for $220 a month for 35 years, at which time ownership will remain with the county. Judge/Executive Jim Ward called the arrangement a win-win situation and Fifth District Magistrate Wayne Fleming, who expressed concerns in last month’s meeting about losing a sizable investment the county has already made in the building, said he was satisfied with the new plan.
Johan Graham of AU Associates, who was accompanied by Jenkins Project Manager Joey Klare and AU President Holly Wiedemann, said the arrangement would allow AU to have the site control it needs to meet deadlines to apply for grants to renovate the structure and added that the county will receive $92,400 over the 35-year period. Graham said AU has already allotted $400,000 to redo the senior citizens center in the building, and Fleming said the rent will pay the electric bill on the center. AU will spend $5 million all together to
convert the building into 26 senior citizen apartments complete with 35 parking spots in the rear.
Judge Ward told Letcher County residents they should consider the agreement in terms of what it will do for Jenkins and the entire county, and asked AU to consider looking at other abandoned schools throughout the county for similar conversions. Graham said that usually, when the first project is completed, it is easier to find funding for others and said he would consider other sites.
Jenkins Mayor G.C. Kincer told the court the renovation would have much the same effect of putting in a subdivision with 26 homes. Kincer said the result would be priceless for Jenkins and would help in ongoing efforts to revitalize the city. He praised Magistrate Fleming and Ward, along with the rest of the court, and former Mayor Charles Dixon for their leadership in the project of preserving the school and said the renovation represented an advance for the entire county.
“It’s an opportunity for the county that you have created,” said Kincer.
Ward also read a proclamation honoring Wendell “Butch” Boggs, who owned and operated Boggs Pharmacy in Jenkins for 40 years. Ward praised Boggs for his service to his community through his professional work and his work in the Jenkins Methodist Church and the Jenkins Kiwanis Club as well as individually and through other volunteer organizations. Magistrate Fleming joined in praising Boggs and said he was proud to call him a friend. Boggs thanked the court and said it was good to be recognized. He added that he was happy to be associated with Fleming who “is always fighting for the people.”
Charles Dixon told the court he wanted to make one point, that the $1.5 million in coal severance taxes spent on the old school building had come from a line item in the state budget requested by then Governor Paul Patton and had not represented funds being taken from the rest of the county. Dixon said Patton had made his recommendation after participating in the opening of the Dave Zegeer Coal and Railroad Museum in Jenkins. Magistrate Fleming said the Old Jenkins School Committee had also raised more than $30,000 for work on the building and that one real plus from leasing to AU is that the court will not have to spend any further funding to maintain the property.
The court also voted unanimously to amend the current Sanitation Ordinance to include an expanded definition of “curbing” garbage. Letcher County Attorney Jamie Hatton told the court he had clarified curbing and read the revision. Curbing is now defined as “placing garbage at the nearest public road, county road, state road, or city street.” Ward explained that the intent is to have sanitation customers place their garbage at the end of their driveway or at the junction of their property and a public road. Ward said it is being done to prevent possible injury to county workers, but will also remove possible liability issues from property owners who are liable if a county worker or any other person is injured on their property. Magistrate Fleming asked about possible exceptions and Ward replied that these will have to be examined by Sanitation Director Gary Cornett, who will make the decision.
The court heard a report from Codell Construction Site Manager Rusty Evans that bricking on the exterior of the county recreation center is underway and most interior walls are complete. Evans said six bar joists are now in place for the gymnasium roof and decking on lower roofs is being installed and work on internal piping and ductwork is mostly complete as well. Geothermal welds will begin in March and Evans said the project is on schedule for an August opening.
Magistrate Fleming told Ward he wanted to clarify information contained an article that appeared in a recent edition of the Letcher County Community News- Press which Fleming said indicated that he and Second District Magistrate Terry Adams were “screwing” the county out of $70,000 in interest reductions by opposing an arrangement to finance the rec center through the Kentucky Association of Counties. Fleming said that when he and Adams cast their no votes on the lease agreement, no mention of interest reduction was made and that the vote had carried in spite of their opposition.
Judge Ward replied that the reason for the revised lease was to put the financing on a fixed rate because interest rates are starting to go up. Fleming said that was probably a good idea, but that he had not seen anything about the rates. County Finance Officer Dor i s Jean Frazier said the savings would amount to about $22,000 ($22,191.08) and Fleming said he wasn’t surprised that the News- Press had the wrong figure.
“It doesn’t surprise me that The Community Press did that, “said Fleming. “They do their best to butcher me every way they can. I just wanted to make sure. I’ve been opposed (to the center) all along. I won’t start voting yes now.”
Magistrate Terry Adams asked for copies of the records on the center financial arrangements as well.
Fleming also questioned a bill of more than $25,000 from Breeding’s Plumbing and Electric for a new water heater for the Letcher County Jail. Judge Ward said Breeding’s had the contract for electrical work and the job had been an emergency. Fleming said he just wanted to make sure the court hadn’t exceeded the state limit of making a purchase of over $20,000 without a bidding process.
The court also voted unanimously to issue a proclamation of support for the Leslie-Knott-Letcher- Perry Community Action Council (LKLP). Whitesburg Office Manager Tammie Whitaker asked the court to support the organization with a proclamation or a letter to Fifth District U.S. Congressman Hal Rogers, who along with Senator Rand Paul, has suggested cutting funding to federal programs that provide funds to LKLP and other local and regional agencies. Magistrate Fleming said he fears bad times in the future for eastern Kentucky with projected budget cuts in Congress, and Whitaker said if the cuts are made and the region has a winter next year as bad as this one, she fears for the lives of many poor people.
In other court business:
• The court voted to deed property in Blackey to Blackey Senior Citizens. County Attorney Hatton praised County Surveyor Richard Hall for his excellent work in conducting a new survey of Blackey and clarifying the county’s property holdings in the area.
• Letcher County Tourism Chairman David Narramore presented copies of a display rack card folder for the Mountain Heritage Festival to the court and said the commission has folders in production for the Seedtime Festival, Pine Mountain Co-op, Thunder on the Mountain: The Return of John Hunt Morgan, Artwalk, the Heritage Car Show, Riverside Days, the Little Shepherd Drama, Indian Summer Days, and the Farmer’s Market. He said the 2011 master schedule of events is now complete and has also gone to the printer. Narramore added that a planning grant to the Brushy Fork Institute is due in June and a Cell Phone Tour Grant the commission received from Brushy Fork is underway and will be ready to submit to computer programmers to turn into a cell phone application. The commission is also in the process of applying for a “Paint the Town” grant of $ 1,000 for downtown Whitesburg and has scheduled a meeting with the Little Shepherd Drama to develop a marketing plan for the 2011 season.
• The court reappointed Bernard Watts to the Board of Directors of the Letcher County Water and Sewer District. Watts’s current term expires in June.
• County Treasurer Phillip Hampton warned the court of hard times coming. Hampton said the county should be in decent shape for the rest of the fiscal year, but warned that the current bank balances for county agencies will have to last until the end of the fiscal year in June.