Until last night, the committee had been successful in staying on schedule to meet its mid-April deadline for state-approved bonding money. Even though Wednesday night was the targeted date for a preliminary facilities plan to be completed, committee members were unable to agree on the future of the county's three high schools.
Entrenched views concerning consolidation has the group gridlocked.
"Looks like we got us a stalemate," said facilities chairman Frank Smith after a third vote was tallied without a required two-thirds majority.
Attention turned toward state facilitator George Cawood after the succession of votes took place. He appeared perplexed.
"You have to have a plan," Cawood said simply. "And I believe compromise needs to come into play at some point."
Committee members had three options to vote upon concerning the district's high schools. Option one called for one centralized high school. Option 2A called for the retaining of James A. Cawood High School and the construction of another new high school. Option 2B included the construction of two new high school facilities. Option three keeps the district's current three high schools.
Before voting began, about an hour's worth of discussion took place concerning last minute questions. County facilities director Mike Howard supplied the committee with information regarding transportation costs, and architect Bill Richardson presented estimated costs for building new facilities and major renovations. He said a new centralized high school would probably cost around $25 million and two new facilities would total around $40 million. Bringing Evarts and Cumberland high schools up to "state of the art" levels would take about $18 million.
A short recess was suggested before the voting process began, but prior to the break, Smith felt compelled to say a few words.
"We have studied and analyzed just about all we can study and analyze," he began. "And we can be assured that someone is going to be upset with what we come up with. They can fault our decisions, but they can't fault our effort."
Smith touched on comments made by Evarts High School Principal Wallace Napier on Tuesday night regarding unmet promises made by former superintendent James A. Cawood. He said he was up to 3 in the morning thinking about what was said during Tuesday night's meeting. The realization he said he had when he was unable to sleep was that this committee was living in a new age.
"Our administration is not the same. Our school board is not the same," Smith said. "We have the opportunity to do something good. I'm not an avid supporter of consolidation. I'm an avid supporter of what's best for Harlan County students. ... We need to look at what's best for 1,400 students and not what is best for 700 here or 900 there. We've got to stop competing with each other for money. It's time we move ahead and start competing on a state level. Hopefully, we can come up with something tonight that will impress someone."
Smith's hope was crushed when, after the break, voting began and former alignments resurfaced, proving to be just as strong.
Napier first made the motion for all three high schools to remain permanent education centers, which was seconded by District 2 Magistrate Curt Stallard. The motion failed with seven in favor and nine opposed.
Hall High School Principal Acey Cornett then made the motion in favor of option 2B, which was seconded by Harlan County School Board member Myra Mosley. This time the motion failed in a 14-2 vote.
Gayle Jurgens was the third committee member to make a motion. She threw her support in favor of option one, a centralized county high school. Stan Nicely seconded the motion, which also failed in a 9-7 vote. Nicely then made a motion in support of option 2A, which called for the retention of JACHS and the construction of one high school. The motion, however failed for a lack of a second.
Smith asked Cawood a question concerning voting protocol. When he found out a committee chairman was permitted to make a motion and offer a second, he once again brought option 2A to the table.
"Somewhere, someway, we have got to find a middle ground," Smith said before his motion came to a vote. "(Option two-A) is the area for compromise."
Even though option 2A received a second this time, which was given by Nicely, the motion met the same fate as the others.
When the impasse was reached, Cawood asked committee members if they had any other suggestions. Roy Silver and Cumberland High School Principal Ed Clem asked about appropriating money for less-involved renovation efforts at Cumberland and Evarts high schools. Jurgens was opposed.
"I've seen it time and time again where we put money into renovation, then we close the schools," she said. "Seems like we've always done this."
Richardson agreed, saying "You need to consider doing it right or not doing it at all."
He also added that state officials are more inclined to approve single projects instead of renovation projects at different facilities wrapped into one funding package.
Seeing they were not getting anywhere with the high schools, the committee opted to begin discussion on the district's grade schools. Their job was to list each educational center as either permanent or transitional. Bonding money can be spent on structures designated permanent, but structures listed as transitional means they will be eventually phased out.
Napier made the motion to list all schools - including high schools - as permanent. When Cornett asked if that was the same thing as option three, Smith replied yes.
"It basically keeps everything as is within the county where we are competing against each other with who's going to get what and who's going to get it first," Smith said.
When debates began to surface regarding elementary schools, the committee finally agreed to call it a night and continue its quest Monday morning at 10.