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ON TRACK Art school renovation gets legislative boost

Area leaders and legislators deserve congratulations for their success in securing $7.5 million in state funds to renovate the former Kitchens Inc. building into the linchpin of the fast-growing Paducah School of Art and Design.

The Kentucky House and Senate have approved a budget that includes the $7.5 million, part of a larger package to be funded by the first-ever agency bonds authorized for the Kentucky Community and Technical College System (KCTCS). The governor appears certain to sign the legislation.

The $7.5 million will be the state's share of the roughly $10 million it will require to renovate the 30,000-square-foot Kitchens Inc. building to house drawing, painting and photography programs for the art school, which is a part of West Kentucky Community and Technical College.

The remaining $2.5 million will be raised locally, and that effort already is well underway. The college along with the PJC Foundation kicked off a fundraising drive last July that had already raised $650,000 as of early this year. Securing of the state funding is certain to add momentum to the local fundraising effort and the goal is at a level this community has successfully funded several times in the past.

The state money is part of an approximately $146 million package to be paid for with the KCTCS agency bonds. Colleges in the KCTCS system had received no money for capital projects during three prior biennial budgets due to the impact of the Great Recession and slow recovery on state finances. The agency bond package developed in this year's session required each of the Commonwealth's 16 community and technical colleges to specify one priority capital project. The package is designed to fund 75 percent of the cost of each project, conditioned on the remainder being raised locally. The agency bonds' debt service will be paid for with a student fee surcharge - $4 per credit hour this fall, rising to $8 per credit hour in the years ahead.

The Paducah School of Art and Design is already a success. It has grown to more than 400 students in its six years of existence despite operating out of an array of mostly temporary quarters. Its campus fits neatly geographically and thematically with the Lower Town Historic District and the Artist Relocation Program centered there.

Obtaining the state money for the renovation was a top priority for the Paducah Area Chamber of Commerce, which pushed hard for it in Frankfort. For that work we commend them.

WKCTC President Barbara Veazey says the college would like to begin construction this July and have the renovation completed in time for the 2015 academic year. She concedes that will require a lot of local fundraising in a short period of time, but believes that is achievable.

We agree. The art school already is a great asset to the city's downtown neighborhoods and another cog in the greater downtown redevelopment that has made Paducah the envy of many communities. The effort to fund the local portion of the Kitchens Inc. project deserves the Paducah area's full support.

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