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Projects pumping cash into economy
May, 26th 2008

Hundreds of millions being spent on construction across the region; officials say money going back into local hands

From airport buildings to schools and justice centers, hundreds of millions of dollars in public construction projects are providing a jolt to local economies.

In Warren County alone, there is more than $200 million being spent on projects that include a new side to the football stadium at Western Kentucky University, expansion of the National Corvette Museum, a new T.C. Cherry Elementary School and a new aquatics center for Warren County Schools.

The project with the largest price tag, at about $70 million, is the new Joseph Warren Middle and High School that is being constructed in Rich Pond.

Westerns $37.5 million expansion project at Houchens-Smith Stadium began two years ago and is scheduled to be complete this fall in time for football season, according to Bob Skipper, director of WKU Media Relations.

The school also recently completed work on its South Campus, is working on the Innovation and Commercialization Center and a parking lot near its main campus, and is getting ready for work on Van Meter Auditorium and the Preston Center, Skipper said.

Van Meter and Preston were among the projects authorized by the General Assembly. The university will use $34.5 million in agency and restricted funds for the projects, which will begin this summer.

Westerns Student Life Foundation, via Warren County Fiscal Court, issued $26 million in bonds to be used for dormitory improvements and expansion of its chillwater plant, as well as for some bond refinancing. Work is being done on Keen Hall and Pearce-Ford Tower dormitories.

Lost River Cave hopes to begin construction within a year on a new visitors center, and there also are a multitude of church expansion projects either planned or under way that add to the mix in Warren County.

Having so many large public projects is a blessing in a market when housing starts are down across the nation and in Kentucky, according to Justine Detzel, chief labor market analyst for the state Office of Employment and Training.

Regionally, there has been a definite slowing in residential growth, according to Dennis Chaney, director of the Barren River District Health Department.

We have seen a great decrease in the number of septic tank permits we issue, he said.

Anyone in the eight counties served by the health department that is not on a sanitary sewer - which is most of the area outside of the county seats - is required to get a septic tank permit, Chaney said.

But the funding for public projects seems to be continuing; you are not really seeing a downturn there, he said.

Chaneys department also is overseeing two public projects. A new $1.2 million health department building is about 95 percent complete in Hart County (where a new $11.3 million justice center also is under construction), while a $762,000 addition/remodeling of the Simpson County Health Department building is about 50 percent complete.

Government projects are helping to offset the residential downturn, Detzel said.

Many of those projects use local general or subcontractors for work, which means a lot of the money stays in the area. But even those projects that have out of town contractors still impact local economies, according to Logan County Judge-Executive Logan Chick.

Chick said a Winchester contractor is managing the $14 million judicial center that is being constructed across from the historic courthouse.

A lot of the workers are staying in town, Chick said - which means they also are eating in the countys restaurants and shopping there for the duration of their work.

Construction on the facility is ahead of schedule so far, with the foundation and rough plumbing done.

Logan County also is preparing to build a new Extension Service building at a cost of about $1.5 million, the contract for which was just awarded to local contractor Circle C Construction.

Its going to have a meeting room that will hold up to 350 people, Chick said.

The building itself is expected to be a boost for the community.

We are looking forward to it being an economic tool for Logan County as well as for use by the Extension Service, Chick said.

The facility will be available for public meetings and to rent for large events or receptions.

It will serve kind of as a convention center, he said.

Other than the schools, it would be the largest space available in the county for public use.

Logan County also will soon build a new terminal building at its airport at an estimated cost of about $800,000.

It will include offices, a reception area and restrooms for people flying in, Chick said. Its going to be a real nice building.

In Russellville, its city school system is in the midst of a $9.5 million project to replace the middle school that was constructed in 1930, according to Superintendent Roger Cook.

We are building a new middle school behind our high school and four new classrooms at Stevenson Elementary School, where we were running out of room, Cook said.

There also will be a new track, tennis courts and athletics building.

Cook said the project is using a Paducah contractor, whose workers are staying in the motels, but there also are a good deal of local subcontractors on the project, keeping the money at home.

The new school should be complete in time for a move in December. Once that happens, most of the old middle school that stands beside Rhea Stadium will be demolished. The newest portion, containing a library, will be turned into a technology office, while the remainder of the property will be used for parking for the stadium and contain a walking track and mini park.

Work also is being done to right the brick wall of Rhea Stadium, which has been bowing into the street. The stadium, including parts of the middle school, was built as a federal government Works Progress Administration project.

The WPA used government projects to give people jobs when unemployment was historically high.

Edmonson County is putting the finishing touches on its Library/Technology Center and will build a new recreation park at Bee Springs, according to Edmonson County Judge-Executive N.E. Reed.

Reed said the building, which also will have space for a senior center, should be complete in June.

The $1.5 million project is being constructed on the edge of the parking lot near where the former Kellwood Manufacturing building burned years ago. The project is being funded mostly through various state funds and a $248,000 federal appropriation obtained by Sen. Jim Bunning, R-Ky.

Reed said the project has helped provide numerous construction jobs for county residents, including the project manager.

Barren County Schools, meanwhile, is building a new North Jackson Elementary School.

It will be our seventh elementary school, said Bill Walter, assistant superintendent. We are using RBS Design out of Owensboro and Venture Contracting in Glasgow is our general contractor.

The project is expected to cost $7.85 million, but Walter is quick to point out that such funds are not taking money away from instructional funds.

It comes from facility construction funds that are specifically earmarked for school construction and cant be used for any other purpose within the school system, he said.

The preschool through sixth-grade school will house about 350 children.

From a business standpoint (such projects) provide opportunities for contractors in our area to continue to work and continue to employ their workers, so it is a definite economic benefit for citizens of our community, Walter said. Additionally, people who earn money in Barren County spend money in Barren County to support other business. So it has a very positive impact on the local economy.

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