Extensive repairs needed at Selma High

Published 7:50 pm Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Superintendent Dr. Austin Obasohan walked through the corridors of Selma High School. Around each corner, the lights grew dimmer. He walked past classrooms lined with dingy carpet and underneath ceiling tiles stained with water and mold.

“To me, it’s unacceptable,” Obasohan said. “It’s just not adequate at all.”

Obasohan said he would form a committee next week to research future options for Selma High School. These options include: an extensive renovation of the existing building, a new building constructed on the current site and a new building constructed on another site.

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Two years ago, Volkert & Associates, Inc. of Mobile performed an assessment of Selma High School. The engineering firm, which has offices across the Southeast U.S., estimated renovations of the high school would cost about $20 million, while constructing a new high school would cost between $38 and $40 million.

Volkert’s vice president of project construction management Philip Russell said those prices would not have fluctuated much since the assessment. Russell said the firm awarded contracts at a lower cost than budgeted during the current recession.

“If you’ve got the money, now’s the time to buy construction,” Russell said.

Volkert identified a number of problems with Selma High School including: unutilized square footage, water damage in the auditorium, outdated dressing rooms in the gymnasium, a poorly located cafeteria and many problems in the east wing.

“Your east wing is dilapidated,” Russell said. “It has some mold and mildew issues.”

Obasohan, principal Wanda McCall and coordinator of auxiliary services Ray Mathiews walked through the east wing and other parts of the school last week. The east wing was constructed more than 50 years ago. Since then, the wing has not undergone any major renovations. In contrast, the main building was renovated within the last 10 years.

Mathiews scribbled in a notebook when he saw blown fluorescent light bulbs and damaged ceiling tiles. Despite the efforts of Mathiews and his staff, Selma High School cannot be patched up anymore.

“I think we do a pretty good job of maintaining what we have,” Mathiews said. “It’s the layout and just the overall condition. It needs to be replaced.”

Problems are not confined to the main building either. Jacolby Adams, a senior, said the roof leaks in the freestanding band building.

“If it rains real hard, it’s going to flood in there,” Adams said. “One day when it rained, we had to have a bucket in there.”

McCall said an outdated and damaged facility was no excuse to stop working though. She said her faculty and staff make do with what they have, but deserve much more.

“Despite our building, we’re still teaching,” McCall said. “The kids and the staff deserve an up-to-date facility.”

Physics and chemistry teacher Malysa Chandler said she learned to improvise when she was hired two years ago. Chandler said her room was bare, except for dusty carpet on the floor and mold on the ceiling. It was almost dark as night in that classroom on the east wing, too.

“The first thing I noticed when I got here was the darkness,” Chandler said. “I’ve done the best with what I had. Everything’s just outdated.”

Mathiews agreed with Chandler. The building just does not meet modern standards. There are too few electrical outlets, and the plumbing and some heating, ventilating and air conditioning systems are outdated. Mathiews said the combination of a poor original design and countless additions created a maze of corridors, classrooms, nooks and crannies that make the school impossible to monitor.

“This school was built for the ’50s and ’60s,” Mathiews said. “It doesn’t flow right, and it’s hard to supervise.”

PTO president Wanda Goodwin said supervision and safety are her primary concerns. She said there are too many entrances to the school, which makes it impossible to know who comes and goes.

“New schools are designed to promote safety,” she said.

That is why Goodwin would like to see an entirely new high school built where the 70-year-old building stands. While school officials do not know exactly how much money President Barack Obama’s economic stimulus package would provide for the project, Goodwin said the time is right to build.

“We need to go on and explore the possibility of the new school, or we will be left in the dust,” Goodwin said.

Mathiews said the school system has some capital improvement funds available, and he hopes the economic stimulus package provides some help. He said the school would still need to finance the project whether it was an extensive renovation or construction of a new building.

Obasohan said options are still being explored. The next step occurs when Obasohan recommends the list of names for the committee to the school board at the Thursday, March 12, meeting at 6 p.m. at Pickard Auditorium.

School Board President Barbara Stapp-Hiouas said she would wait on community input before deciding what action should be taken. She said something must be done quickly though.

“It’s just in dire need of so much repairs,” she said. “I don’t know that we can really point to one. We’re talking leaks; we’re talking mold; we’re talking electrical work.”

Obasohan agreed the time to act is now, regardless of potential funding obstacles.

“We know we’re in proration, but our children can no longer wait,” he said.