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School board reconsidering building plan

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By The Staff

By Nathan L. McBroom/Sentinel-News Staff Writer

Because of overcrowding at the high school and middle schools in the district, the Shelby County Board of Education is considering delaying the construction of a new elementary school by up to three years and changing the purpose of a planned secondary school.

At a special-called meeting Monday night, board members discussed their options for the construction of two new schools in the district and considered the possibility of changing proposed building plans.

In May, the board approved a plan for the building of a new elementary school and a new secondary school. The secondary school would initially serve as an "8/9 center" that would house all of the eighth and ninth grade students in the district. The facility would eventually serve as the second high school in the district.

Former Shelby County Superintendent Elaine Farris said that the 8/9 center would temporarily relieve the overcrowding at the two middle schools and at the high school until 2013. And as the 8/9 center was in use, a third middle school was to be built.

Both the new elementary school and 8/9 center were to be built by 2010 - with additions to the 8/9 center to come in later phases. The proposed site for the buildings is on a 110-acre tract of land on U.S. 60 West.

However, on Monday night board members discussed the possibility of constructing a second high school and considered the possibility of delaying the construction of the new elementary school for two to three years, pushing its completion date until 2012 or 2013.

The new option is based on input from interim superintendent Dr. Susan Cook and Mike Smith, the architect who is designing the projects.

Smith, an architect with Sherman, Carter and Barnhardt, and Cook said that building in phases opens the door for potential cost increases as well as possible infrastructure incompatibility when the planned phases are added.

Cook said the board is trying to make the best decision for the district.

"We're taking the time to all be on the same page," she said. "We want to have all the facts to be able to make a prudent decision."

In a press release, Smith stated that building the facility in stages would be less beneficial.

"Anything in the future will cost more. Building a single building is more efficient," he said.

Smith estimated that a new high school, including an athletic complex, could cost about $50 million.

In May, the board estimated that the secondary school would house 1,200 students and would cost over $28 million. At that time, board members discussed the possibility of adding a later phase that could raise the school's capacity to 1,600. The elementary was estimated to cost $12.5 million.

In a press release, Cook suggested that the secondary facility could be used to house grades 8-12 - with the option of being open to grades 8-10 or grades 8-12. Either way, relief would be given to the overcrowding at the high school.

Overcrowded high school

In a press release, Shelby County High School Principal Gary Kidwell said he was pleased to hear that immediate relief for the high school is planned. He said that at present he has not made a decision as to how he would like to see the students divided.

Capacity percentages show SCHS at 102.8 percent with 1,713 students - even with the use of portable classrooms.

A report to the board showed four of the six elementary schools in district are currently at 88 percent or below capacity, with the highest percent at Simpsonville Elementary, at 97 percent capacity.

With the capacity percentage at West middle also currently over 100 percent, the district's population concerns are felt deepest at the high and middle schools.

Cook stated that opening both the elementary school and the secondary school at the same time would be logistically difficult.

"The complex operational and staffing issues that go along with the construction and opening of a new school would be more manageable by not having to bring both schools on at the same time," she said.

She also stated that the district's cash resources for construction are available due to the past prudent fiscal planning on the part of the Board of Education and previous administration.

The district currently has $50 million in resources and bonding potential for construction. Finance Coordinator Greg Murphy told the board that the district's bonding agent has determined that $5 million can be expected each year in bonding capacity for the local school district.

With the district's current financial resources, it is unlikely that opening both an elementary school and a complete secondary school at the same time would be financially feasible.

Board members are currently considering the topic and it will be on the agenda for the December 13 meeting at 7 p.m. in the library at Shelby County High School.