New high school could cost as much as $25 million

By Staff
Tracy B. Cieniewicz, Hartselle Enquirer
While school officials agree the construction of a new high school will be necessary in the near future, none are banking on a proposed tax increase to cover the expense.
If a proposed 7.5 mill property tax is passed Aug. 24, the Hartselle City Council will allot 2.5 mills to the Hartselle City School System for the construction of a new high school.
Superintendent Dr. Lee Hartsell said a new high school would cost approximately $25 million in construction costs alone.
"That's how much it would take to build a school our size, which is comparable to the new Huntsville High School built for $30 million, and 2.5 mills just won't get it," Hartsell said. "It won't hurt, but it will take much more than that to do it."
Aside from being at student capacity, Hartsell said the current Hartselle High School building has many shortcomings, including the upkeep and energy costs for nearly a dozen separate outlying buildings on campus.
In Hartsell's opinion, a new high school will need to be built in the next 10 to 15 years to replace the current school, which dates back to 1962.
Board of Education President Ronnie Abercrombie said he is hoping for a much quicker time scale.
"I would like to seriously be looking at the construction of a new high school in five years," Abercrombie said. "Nearly a quarter million dollars is spent yearly in utility costs alone for Hartselle High because the out buildings are not energy efficient at all."
Abercrombie said if the proposed tax passes, he would like to see the money set aside and used to leverage a bond issue when construction is necessary.
"We have a plan in place for a new school and are trying to save as much money as we can in the meantime," Abercombie said. "This tax increase will only have a chance if people know exactly where the money is going. I don't want to see it nibbled away in little bits."
When a new high school is built, Abercrombie said Hartselle Junior High would most likely relocate to the energy efficient portions of the high school building, also allowing for more student growth in the junior high. The junior high building would possibly house a middle school.
"This would reduce the bottleneck effect from our three elementary schools feeding into the junior high," Abercrombie explained. "We have some very lofty long-range goals and need to accumulate all the money we can to make our borrowing power greater. However, I would personally like to see a separate school tax in place for this project."
Hartselle Junior High Principal Frank Parker said his school definitely feels the bottleneck effect Abercrombie described.
"Our numbers are perfect at 720 students and we are currently just below 750," Parker said. "The junior high was built around 1968-69 to allow for growth in the high school. The construction of a new high school now would allow for growth in the junior high, as well as growth at each existing facility. It's an expensive endeavor, but you get what you pay for."
Hartselle High Principal Jerry Reeves realizes the bottleneck problem at the junior high also and said Hartselle students are very deserving of a new facility whether the proposed tax passes or not.
"Hartselle has the greatest students in the world. We are proud of our high school facility and have worked hard to keep it well maintained," Reeves explained. "It's currently meeting our needs well, but a new school would be nice. It would be equally nice to do a major renovation. The roof needs attention, heating and cooling is outdated in areas, and better insulation is needed. A remodel would save a bundle in energy costs."
Reeves said while student population at the high school is at 878, capacity for the building, the classrooms are not where overcrowding issues are currently being experienced.
"The school was designed in 1962, so the narrow hallways are the biggest problem for our students."
While nothing can immediately be done about the hallways, Abercrombie said improvements will be made during the summer of 2005 to the junior high and high school lunchrooms at a cost of approximately $350,000 each to alleviate overcrowding issues.

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