(PAINTSVILLE, KY) – Johnson County Schools representatives, including employees and students at Johnson Central High School, broke ground atop an eastern Kentucky mountain on March 7 on a project slated to expand access to opportunity for students in the region.
The project, positioned on reclaimed mine land, is a $126 million high school and integrated career and technical center. It will include a new studio for media arts students, state-of-the-art facilities for engineering and technology students, and resources for instruction and collaboration outside of the traditional classroom setting.
The general assembly allocated $10 million in local area vocational education center (LAVEC) funds to aid in expanding career and technical education in Johnson County and across Kentucky. In addition to these funds, the local communities supported changes to tax structures to raise revenue for the district.
Johnson County Schools Superintendent Thom Cochran said the campus will include a 3,300-seat gymnasium, a secondary auxiliary gym that also will serve as a storm shelter and an auditorium that seats more than 1,000 people.
Community leaders and elected officials began planning for the project many years ago, building upon a culture of supporting education.
“We’re all about opportunities. This just gives our students more opportunities,” said Monica Daniel, Johnson Central High School’s career and technical education principal. “They’re going to have the best facilities, the best equipment and one of the nicest schools, I believe, in the state of Kentucky.”
Johnson Central is among the few Kentucky high schools with a fully integrated career and technical center within its building.
According to Daniel, the school provides students with opportunities to pursue their interests in allied health, business management, carpentry, culinary, engineering and other pathways for a total of 29 career and technical pathways.
Cochran said Johnson Central High School has done well with too little for too long. When he took over at the district’s helm six years ago, he envisioned aiding the school’s growth by building upon previous superintendents’ foundations.
“We have made do for so many years. Our current high school is 54 years old. It was built, and we opened it in 1968,” he said. “We’ve operated our high school and fully functioning career and tech center within the school.”
Cochran explained that the current building has ample space for 715 students, but now educates over 1,000.
“The culture of Johnson Central is, ‘We’re the best because we make do with what we have,'” said Constance Martin, Johnson County Schools student board member and media arts student. “We don’t have all the fancy equipment and facilities that other schools have but we still come out on top.”
The school’s size has not limited its success, but students say the new campus will empower the district and its students to grow further.
“This new equipment and everything that we’re getting with this new high school will be able to push us further and help us explore new pathways that we didn’t even think were possible for us,” she said.
“I’m really excited for the engineering labs and stuff,” said Nick Hardin, a Johnson County Schools student board member. “Right now, we’re in a pretty small room with a few computers.”
According to Hardin, who graduates later this year, being part of the process means a lot to him.
Students acknowledged that they would not be among the future generations who would experience this new facility and the spaces it will provide for high-quality learning, but their excitement for the community remains.
Construction workers will clear the land over the next 20 months, after which construction will begin. The district plans for opening the new building for the 2027-2028 school year.