Meeting raises questions on future of Selma High

Published 12:07 am Wednesday, May 20, 2009

A majority of Selma residents, many of them parents, spoke out for building a new high school in Selma during a public forum Tuesday night.

Selma City Schools Superintendent Dr. Austin Obasohan sponsored the town hall meeting to hear what the public had to say about the condition of the high school on Broad Street. The group of about 60 people received three options: renovate the existing high school, build a new one on the present site or find a new site and build a high school.

Obasohan said this meeting would provide the first step in determining what course of action to take. He said he had no opinion on the matter yet.

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“We do not have all the answers. That’s why we come to you,” the superintendent told the group of parents, concerned citizens and community leaders gathered in the auditorium at the School of Discovery.

Two years ago, Volkert & Associates Inc. of Mobile performed an assessment of Selma High School. The engineering firm estimated renovations of the high school would cost about $20 million. Construction of a new high school would cost between $38 million and $40 million, according to the assessment. It’s not expected that the prices would have fluctuated much since the assessment.

At the time, the firm identified a number of problems at the high school, including underused space, water damage in the auditorium, outdated dressing rooms in the gymnasium, a poorly located cafeteria and a plethora of problems in the east wing, which the engineering firm labeled “dilapidated.”

Malcom Jordan, a resident of Selma, said he’s concerned about the quality and type of education the children will have.

“We’re educating the children for a future,” he said, adding that nobody knows what that future will be. “We can only guess.”

He asked if the building that exists now will be the type of building that can provide the environment for the kind of education children will need to face the future. Jordan questioned if the wiring of the present structure would be adequate to handle high-tech equipment, such as advanced computer servers.

He also raised questions about the security of the building.

“It was built the year I was born, and I’m pushing 70,” he said. “I have a doubt in my mind whether or not that security can be enhanced to the point that it needs to be enhanced.”

Mayor George Evans said he had toured the school on Monday and saw the needs there. But a fundamental question, he said, is does the school board control enough money to build a new high school? The mayor said a plan needs to be in place to say where the money will come from to either renovate or construct a new high school.

Carolyn Bates has a son in the school system and says she has been a part of the school system in some fashion since 1963. Recently, she visited her son in his classroom at the high school. Most of the panels are out of the ceiling she said, adding that the disrepair distracts students from learning.

“We need a new high school,” she said.

Renovation will not work, Bates said. If the money is available and if the state will approve it, the city should build a new high school.

Tammy Maul has a child in high school and another child about to attend Selma High School. She, too, raised issues about the disrepair. If the system doesn’t have enough money to build a new high school, then parents and other interested parties should go to the city government about a bond issue to build the structure.

“That’s what they’re doing everywhere,” she said. “That’s what other schools did. They floated a bond or added onto taxes.”

Many others also spoke in favor of constructing a new school.

Obasohan thanked the group for attending the meeting and said he would take all the comments into consideration and present them to the school board, which would make the final decision.