To build or renovate?

Published 12:00 am Sunday, August 12, 2007


The conditions of parts of Selma High School are in need of improvement. That would be an understatement, according to members of the Board of Education.

While the search is on to find a permanent superintendent for the 4,000-student city school system, board members are contemplating upgrades to the high school.

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Over the past year, Mayor James Perkins Jr. attempted to get the city to purchase land that he said could be used to build a new high school.

Board members balked.

Former Superintendent Dr. James Carter resigned, and the chief school finance officer was terminated.

The system has an interim superintendent, and a firm has been contracted to conduct a national search for Carter’s replacement.

Instead of agreeing to spend $1 million on the purchase of land off Bell Road, city school officials opted to perform an assessment of the current facility. Selma High was built in 1939.

It graduated its first class in 1940 at A.G. Parrish High.

Following Thursday’s first day of school, board members – one who is a parent with a child at Selma High – expressed discontent with the current facility.

Debra Howard said she visited the Ninth Grade Academy and what she discovered was less than appealing.

“What I observed was appalling,” she said.

Howard said she noticed light bulbs out, tile hanging out of the ceiling, built up wax around the wall on the floor, and children coming out of the restroom “shaking their hands to dry them off.”

“The rest rooms were filthy,” Howard said. “This was the first day of school. We have five custodians over there. What I observed was unacceptable. I ask the community to go see for themselves. If we want a good environment, you have to make it for yourself.”

A New Selma High School

The day may be approaching when Selma residents can have input on the decision to renovate or build a new high school. Leo Barken, a representative from Volkert & Associates, Inc., presented the results of its assessment of the situation. The firm presented three options – to build a new school, to renovate the existing site, and to demolish and rebuild at the existing location. It would cost an estimated $43.7 million to build a new high school that would accommodate the growth potential of Selma High at a new location.

A Selma High Renovation

Barken told school board members his firm recently completed renovation of a portion of Woodlawn High School in Montgomery at a cost of approximately $16 million. “Selma High would have similar challenges to Woodlawn. It was built in the 1920s. And when you get to tearing into something like that you never know what you’re getting into,” Barken said.

It would cost $20.6 million to renovate the existing structure, according to the engineers.

Barken said the most costly would be the main building, which would cost an estimated $6.4 million.

The east wing would cost $3.6 million to repair, and the new gym is in need of $1.2 million in renovations – primarily upgrades. The plans do not call for expanding the 1,500-seat gym.

The proposal did not call for renovations to the school’s athletic field house.

Included in the total costs was $250,000 for drainage improvements, $150,000 for the disposal of asbestos and $300,000 for a six-lane rubber oval track. The school cafeteria is in need of $800,000 in renovations, Barken said.

Demolish & Rebuild

The option to demolish and rebuild on the present location was also discussed, which included prioritizing needs and shifting the 1,000-plus student population. Through temporary structures and redirecting use, Barken told board members it would cost an estimated $43.2 million.

Barken said the costs were “all estimates,” and to rebuild – whether it’s a new location or at the existing site – would cost about the same.

The renovation figure also includes $300,000 for a rubber track, as given in the renovation option. Engineers said the life expectancy of a new school would be “about the same” as that of a renovated facility.

The firm acknowledged there was sufficient space at the existing location, between Broad Street and Franklin Street, to accomplish the demolition/rebuild option.

Board Chairman John W. Williams, in his inaugural message, said the board welcomed public input this year and they wanted to conduct business “in the open.”

Board members held no discussion on how to finance one of the proposed options, but agreed public meetings would be needed to get community input on the idea.

Councilman Johnnie Leashore, who has been an outspoken advocate of increasing ad valorem taxes earmarked for public schools, said it would be a suitable option for financing a new site or renovating the existing one.

“If we don’t, we’re going to pay for it later. We’re going to need capable people,” Leashore said. “Our children deserve nothing less.

The Selma City Council has asked City Attorney Jimmy Nunn to research methods of reorganizing the board of education. Council members have expressed interest in having board members elected, as opposed to being appointed to the 11-member board by the city council.

There are currently three vacancies on the school board.

Two of them may be filled as early as the council’s meeting Monday night from the pool of applicants who recently submitted applications for appointment, Leashore said. The third position will have to be advertised and candidates will be interviewed for consideration.