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Scary thought: Cost of new high school could exceed $25 million

By Staff
Clif Knight, Hartselle Enquirer
Continued growth is prompting Hartselle School Board members to consider construction of a new high school.
That growth – and the prospects of a new high school – were brought up during the most recent school board meeting. The subject was brought up by board member Jeff Gray who questioned other board members if they had given any more thought to a new high school. It was concluded by Superintendent Dr. Mike Reed telling the board he would call Mayor Dwight Tankersley the next day to set up a meeting to discuss the subject.
"If you want me to start looking at it, I'll be glad to," Reed said. "It's a much-needed facility."
"I think now's the time for us to begin the planning process," Gray said.
Reed suggested community meetings as a first step in planning. Others suggested the city needed to be involved early.
"Shouldn't we sit down with the city's elected officials and let them know what we have in mind? Everyone needs to be on the same page on this," Dr. Andy Dukes said.
Gray agreed.
"We need the city's input on whether or not the Bethel Road site is suitable for a new high school," he said.
"We also need to make sure Hartselle Utilities is engaged in the planning process," Hank Quattlebaum, maintenance director, said.
Reed agreed that a meeting with city officials and utilities personnel would be a good place to start.
"If they say there's no way they can support such a project, there's no need for us to begin making plans at this time," Reed said.
Gray said costs associated with maintaining the current facilities will play a role in the board's decision.
"We're facing a lot of expense down the road in dealing with the condition and operation of our existing facilities," Gray said. "We should be able to consolidate some of our expenses with a new facility. I'd like to know more about the cost vs. benefit factor."
Former Superintendent Dr. Lee Hartsell estimated a new school would cost more than $25 million.
Talk of a new high school isn't something new. It was aired several years ago when the school board purchased a 70-acre farm on Bethel Road as a future school plant site.
A part of that property is currently occupied by F.E. Burleson Elementary School.
During the previous administration, 100 percent state/federal funding was obtained for the replacement of the old CSX Railroad Bridge on Hammitt Street. The $1.5 million project is currently under planning as the first of four phases in a proposed north downtown bypass, linking Highway 31 and I-65. From a traffic flow standpoint, this project has an important bearing on the future location of a high school complex on Bethel Road.
The past administration also supported a 7.5 mills property tax increase, one-third of which would have been placed in a new high school building fund. That measure was soundly defeated by voters in the 2004 municipal election.