The News Courier in Athens, Alabama

November 5, 2013

Owens, West, Creekside options on the table

By Kim West

— The seven-member Limestone County Board of Education has some delicate decisions to make regarding the capital needs of three schools that house grades K-5.

Dr. Tom Sisk, county schools superintendent, has asked the board to consider consolidation as a solution for building needs at Owens Elementary and West Limestone High School, which house grades K-12.

West has an elementary wing that requires a new roof, while its feeder school, Owens, does not have air conditioning in its gymnasium, among other maintenance concerns for both campuses.

The system has already approved a district-wide capital plan that calls for a new elementary school at West Limestone in 2015.

The superintendent suggested the school board could consider consolidating Owens and the K-5 grades at West into a new elementary for an estimated $11 million. The new school would be built at West, while Owens could be used for programs such as the Alternative School or Ombudsman.

He said the consolidation option would be discussed during the next 12 months, along with possibility of dividing the money between Owens and West.

“I hope the board will give consideration to a new elementary outright, which would call for consolidation, or (the money) would have to be split between the two,” Sisk said. “The consolidated school would allow us to serve 850 kids in a brand-new school.”

Configuring Creekside

The board is also mulling the configuration for 24 new classrooms already approved for construction at Creekside Elementary School.

Sisk said the school, which has about 1,070 students, is home to 18 or 19 portable classrooms in a school system with 55 portables.

Instead of only adding the classrooms, he proposed splitting the K-5 school into two separate entities for K-2 and grades 3-5 that would share a 1,500-square foot cafeteria, an administrative suite and a new gym.

He added this configuration would allow the system to receive additional state teaching units. The school board also has the option of adding on the classrooms to the existing school without splitting it.

“Those 18 or 19 portables need to be converted into classrooms,” Sisk said. “We could have a dual campus at Creekside, with a shared library center and cafeteria, 24 new classrooms, a new gym and an administrative suite.”

School board member Charles Shoulders said Creekside’s enrollment is already too high for an elementary school, and that splitting the school with a shared cafeteria would create scheduling issues.

“That’s too many students at one place,” Shoulders said. “We need to look at two separate entities.”

Sisk said the expanded cafeteria would allow the “now-compressed lunch waves (to revert) to normal waves.” He said the system has limited resources to address district-wide capital, but that the final decision rests with the school board to determine any variation to the capital plan.

A recent assessment of the school system’s buildings revealed that seven of its 13 schools are more than 40 years old, according to a presentation given by Lean Frog Business Solutions President Byron Headrick, who provides efficiency consultations for businesses and school districts.

“I’m trying to make it work with the resources given by the board,” Sisk said. “… Bottom line is (the board) decides what we’re going to do, and we’ll do it.”