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School district buying Clay Center
By Tom Marshall
Senior Advocate writer

The Montgomery County Board of Education has entered into an agreement with Montgomery CommUNITY Development Inc. to purchase the Clay Community Center for $800,000.

The agreement is pending approval by the Kentucky Dept. of Education. The district was expected to submit all documents concerning the proposed purchase to the KDE this week.

Superintendent Matt Thompson told the Advocate that he was unsure when the KDE might decide.

Thompson noted in his recommendation to the board April 23 that the tentative purchase price is below the appraised value of the property and the purchase will allow the district to house its Central Office dept.’s under one roof.

Just as important, Thompson told the Advocate, the district will be able to continue with the original intent of CommUNITY Development, which included access to higher education like the satellite campus for Morehead State University.

Thompson said he welcomes the opportunity the Clay Center purchase presents.

“We’re excited about a couple of things,” he said. “We’re excited about having the ability to maintain the original vision of the Clay Center and MSU continuing to be part of our community. We’re also excited about having Central Office under one roof.”

Thompson said the district was approached about six months ago to determine if it would be interested in purchasing the facility.
After answering several questions about how such a purchase might benefit the community, the school board decided to pursue the opportunity, he said.

Under the district’s plan, the middle section of the facility will be turned into offices for its Central Office. Thompson said it will be more efficient to have all its dept.’s in the same location.

The Adult Education Office currently located there will be moved to the Central Office location on Woodford Drive, Thompson said.
MSU will keep the classrooms on the right side of the building and the ballroom on the far left will still be available for rental to local organizations, he said.

Thompson said the goal is to have the transition complete by the start of next school year.

MSU president Jay Morgan said the change does not impact the university’s commitment to Mt. Sterling.
“MSU is appreciative of the relationship we have with Montgomery County, in general, and our plan is to remain located in Montgomery County for years to come,” Morgan told the Advocate. “Our contact with MCSB, once they purchase the building, will be for another decade or more.”

Thompson said the negotiated lease extends until 2031.
“We opted to take this opportunity to amend the lease to reduce some of our space to allow the school district to have more space and more offices while we kept most all the classrooms,” Morgan said.
He said this was a cost saving measure.

Thompson and members of the CommUNITY Development Board felt it important to maintain the relationship between Mt. Sterling and MSU.
“I think it’s good for everybody,” said Jennifer Ratliff, a former school board member who served on the CommUNITY Development Board. “... It’s always been a marriage between education and community. We’re taking that one more step forward.”

Ratliff said she believes the new relationship will also help ensure that MSU stays in the community long term.
“I think that is tremendous,” she said.

Former development board member and Montgomery County High School principal David Points said the relationship benefits both parties.
“It’s been a great relationship from the get-go,” he said. “I see it doing nothing but growing. I don’t think anyone else could carry it off.”
Points said with the turning of the page on the Clay Community Center came with the construction of a pool at the same site, which was CommUNITY Development’s other major goal.

He didn’t rule out CommUNITY Development getting involved in other local projects in the future, as needs arise.
“The board felt like that they had met their goals as far as how they imagined them,” Points said.

Development Board member and former Mt. Sterling Mayor Bert May said the board had two major concerns going into the proposed sale—that the relationship with MSU be continued and the Clay name kept in association with the center.

“We feel like that’s going to work out,” he said.
Thompson said Freedom Church will be allowed to continue holding services there and events like the Kiwanis Diamond Gala and Chamber of Commerce banquet, among others, can continue to meet there.
The center will also be available for rent for events like wedding receptions and reunions, Thompson said.

“That side will remain available for rent as it has in the past,” he said.
As for alcohol availability at the facility, Thompson said that will be a decision ultimately up to the school board. In the past alcohol has been allowed to be sold/consumed in the ballroom during events.
The first major event held at the center was a banquet hosted by the Gateway Area Development District in 2002.

Thompson said he also wants to clear the air so that there is no misperception about how the school district can go about purchasing the center.
He noted that the district will be using money from a fund restricted for major capital purchases or projects involving facilities and not the general fund.

“They cannot be used for anything else,” Thompson stressed.
The district has struggled to maintain the general fund in recent years and has had to make cuts to maintain it, Thompson said. The fund was bolstered last year when the board approved a property rate tax increase.
The district will also be able to use funds from the sale of the Early Learning Center property (once Mt. Sterling Elementary School), Thompson said.

He said the district has a tentative deal to sell the property for approximately $275,000.

“We want to make sure we are always good stewards of our finances and the timing worked out so we could do that,” Thompson said of the purchase and sale.

In a column for this week’s Advocate, Thompson said that buying the Clay Center will strengthen the school district and community.
“We cannot have a strong school system without a strong community and we cannot have a strong community without a strong school system,” he wrote. “Overall, this decision will continue to strengthen both our community and our school system as we move into the future.”

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