By Jean Cole
In hopes of someday building a new high school in Athens, school officials toured four recently constructed high schools in the state.
Superintendent Trey Holladay and city school board members recently took a road trip to Hartselle High School, Gardendale High School, Oxford High School and Clay County High School. The purpose of the special meeting was view the architecture, design, security features and other aspects of the high schools.
“We’re just looking at different ideas of what we might be looking for in the future as we are putting together our capital plan,” Holladay said of the trip.
Each year, school systems across Alabama must compile and submit to the state Department of Education a prioritized list of capital projects — brick and mortar projects like school buildings. Placement on the capital projects list does not mean a more pressing project could not take precedence, such as the effort this year to make city schools safe from armed intruders in the wake of the Sandy Hook school shooting in Connecticut. In the past, city schools capital projects lists have been wish lists with no concrete plans to proceed.
One of Holladay’s goals is to make the annual list real, not wishful.
“One of the things the board and I have talked about is wanting to make it (the annual list) more concrete and, once we could secure funding, actually putting it in place,” he said.
To that end, the superintendent announced during a school board meeting Wednesday a demographer is coming in to do projections on future enrollment at city schools. The 40-plus-year-old high school currently has about 900 students with only a little room remaining. This year, the entire school system grew by 75 students, Holladay said.
“We want to make sure when the time comes, whether it is a year from now or 10 years, that we know what to plan for as far as growth,” he said. “We don’t want to build too small.”
Exactly when a new high school would be built in Athens is still undetermined. With an estimated cost of $35 million to $40 million, Holladay said it would have to be paid with proceeds of the sale of municipal bonds, whether that comes from in-house or from a state bond issue. It has long been presumed a new high school would be built on school property north of the current high school but nothing has been set in stone.
A new high school would not only have to meet growth but the 21st century needs of students, the need to attract prospective residents, and recruit industry.
“We have to be prepared for not just building a high school with classrooms but for building a high school to prepare students for the workforce or, for those going to college, prepare them for that curriculum,” Holladay said. “But, it is also part of economic development in Athens and Limestone County. They (prospective residents, businesses and industries) will see that the quality of life here is what they want for their children.”