Just the Facts

FHS projects on forward track

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Dan Finnerty

For over a year, the Franklin High School (FHS) project has been a work in progress, from planning to initiation to a quarter cent sales tax in last year’s election process to help fund it, which was defeated in November. Last Thursday, October 19, LS3P, the architectural firm overseeing the project, held a community input session at the Robert C. Carpenter Community Building in Franklin. The event ran for four hours, during which approximately 100 interested parties stopped by to learn more about the new school and other project status. 

LS3P image of the proposed interior redesign of Franklin High School.

The presentation included an architectural model of the proposed school grounds, which will have an athletic complex, a below ground level gymnasium, and many other security and American Disabilities Act features. A slide show, via laptop computer and wall screen projection, was also on display. But the most interesting component available was a tour of the school where participants could don a virtual reality (VR) headset and take in the new facilities as if they were walking through them. VR headsets replace a user’s natural environment with virtual reality content and allows one to turn and look around, just as in the physical world.

LS3P had numerous members on-hand for the session to offer answers to questions about how the process is going and whether an ongoing state-level grant award effort looks like a reality. LS3P Sector Leaders Emily Kite and Jaime Henderson were both present and Henderson offered insight on the grant process. 

“While there are a lot of factors in play, Franklin’s chances appear to be pretty good,” said Henderson, who added that the grant is quite critical to the overall undertaking, given that if awarded it must be used for the school or be returned to the state. “There are things here [in Franklin] that don’t exist elsewhere,” he said, insinuating the attractiveness of the area for people looking to relocate. He emphasized that the number-one criterion most families focus on is the school system available.

The selection process for applicants begins this November, but awardees are not expected to be named before sometime in January 2024. Henderson emphasized that an award recipient being ready to begin is also a critical factor the Raleigh-based selection committee takes into consideration when determining which efforts to recognize and support. 

“If the grant is awarded and you are ready to start construction, the clock starts ‘ticking,’” said Henderson. “It will be a great school but there will be some pain felt as well, especially regarding parking.” Once started, the construction process will be about two years long before demolition of the old buildings begins.

The Higdon Property

Back in May of this year, Colleen Strickland, director, FHS Career and Technical Education (CTE) Testing and Accountability, spoke in support of Macon County’s Higdon Property purchase and how it will assist with the agriculture program at FHS if incorporated into the new high school project. The Higdon Property consists of a brick, column-entrance home as well as land located across the street from the current high school property. The school district remains committed to securing additional funding for necessary renovations and ensuring that the Higdon Property meets all safety and code requirements. This initiative reflects the district’s dedication to fostering practical learning experiences for students and preparing them for future success in various career pathways, while simultaneously addressing infrastructure needs. 

The Higdon property, formerly a private residence, is located across the street from FHS. The property is expected to be repurposed as the school’s Student Career and Technological Education center.

“We have a supportive school board, and we deeply appreciate the ongoing support of our community and county commissioners,” added Strickland. “Their commitment is instrumental in making our vision for the Higdon Property a reality, and together, we’re shaping a brighter future for our students.”

Macon County Commissioner Josh Young also specifically addressed CTE at the same meeting, emphasizing how it applies to efforts the county is undertaking overall with the new high school. Architectural and funding discussions and machinations have continued throughout 2023, with a major component of those processes being application for the aforementioned state lottery-generated grant of $50-$60 million. Awarding of the grant would factor significantly into covering cost of the project. However, Commissioner Gary Shields recently relayed “the probability of again having an initiative on the November 2024 ballot for a tax to assist with funding the new high school project if the grant effort fails.”

At the October Macon County Commissioners monthly meeting, Macon County Schools submitted a CTE Perkins Innovation and Modernization Grant, aiming to bolster a land lab and student-run enterprise concept at the recently acquired Higdon Property. Strickland pointed out that while the grant does not cover construction costs, it promises to provide essential resources and tools for students to thrive in various hands-on educational endeavors. 

Most of the information available at the input session should be accessible online at the Macon County website by the end of the month.