Selma a step closer to school construction

Published 10:27 pm Monday, September 28, 2009

SELMA — An announcement by Gov. Bob Riley later this week may have Selma City Schools on track to building a new high school.

Selma City Schools has received preliminary notification it has received a $20 million loan it applied for, said Craig Pouncey, assistant state superintendent of education, Division of Administrative and Financial Services.

Selma is one of about 45 school systems in line for the money. The state will verify the systems’ possession of adequate local funds to repay the loan. After the verification, Riley will make the announcement, Pouncey said.

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“Hopefully this week we’ll have all the information we need,” he said.

Pouncey said the money is made available through a federal stimulus package that allows the state to loan the money interest free to schools systems for construction projects. These monies are known as quality school construction bonds.

Selma City Schools Superintendent Dr. Austin Obasohan said the school system would not spend more than $1 million during the first year after it received the money. The system would place the state money into an interest-bearing account that would help retire the 15-year debt.

The county also has some surplus funds, including unobligated 2007 bond funds and some insurance money, according to Pouncey.

“They should have about $26 million, plus or minus, to devote to this project,” Pouncey said.

Obasohan said the school system also would use some of the money it received from county and city ad valorem or property taxes.

Obasohan said also he intends to restructure the central office to ensure salaries of workers there do not come from the general fund, which would increase the amount of cash available.

The only salary to come out of a general fund is the superintendent’s. All other salaries should come out of the education foundation, he said.

Obasohan said he is glad of the news of the loan.

“It’s so good for Selma and the timing is so perfect,” he said.

Recently at a town hall meeting, a panel and others discussed the viability of building a new high school. The panel and members of the public in the audience examined three possibilities. The school board recently opted for a plan that would see construction of classrooms and wings, but leave the newer band and fine arts area and another newer wing intact.

Obasohan said construction plans would call for workers to remove the front facade of the old Selma High and place it on the newer building to preserve the school’s historic identity.

The $27 million price tag for the building would include furniture and lab equipment, the schools superintendent said.

Already, the school system has heard from more than 37 different architects, who want to work on the project. School officials have culled down that number to three. Those three will make presentations to the school board, which is expected to select one at its next meeting.

Two years ago, Volkert & Associates Inc. of Mobile executed an evaluation of Selma High School. The engineering firm estimated renovations of the high school would cost about $20 million and construction of a new high school would cost between $38 million and $40 million.

During the assessment, the firm noted several problems at the high school†ñ 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.”