New West Morgan High School nears completion
By Wes Tomlinson
For the Enquirer
Construction is almost complete on a new West Morgan High School that will be ready for students at the beginning of the 2022-23 school year, with staff moving in around the end of May.
The 92,000-square-foot, 28-classroom building, which will hold about 600 students, will include a multi-purpose classroom with a 100-student capacity. There will also be an auxiliary gym, where the school will host full-court competitions.
Principal Keith Harris said the new Trinity school will suit western Morgan County’s growing population.
“We’re expecting 460 students to enroll at West Morgan High next year, which will be the highest enrollment we’ve ever had,” Harris said. “We’re at 442 right now.”
Morgan County school board vice chairman John Holley said the old high school will be used to “help alleviate overcrowding at other schools in the West Morgan area.”
“We’re going to remodel the old high school and move the junior high (grades) into there,” Holley said. “We’re also going to add a grade over there from the elementary school because it is starting to get overcrowded over there.”
Holley said the soon-to-be former high school will need to be remodeled because it is 60 years old. He said the new high school will have modern labs the old school does not have.
“The whole facility will be upgraded with better technology, and they’ll be able to offer a few more workforce programs,” Holley said.
Project manager Tristan Morgan, vice president of Nearen Construction in Cullman, said the only things left to complete on the new school are interior and exterior finishes.
“We’re currently finishing up the paving and landscaping and doing interior finishes that are mainly in the cafeteria, the workshops in the back and the band room,” Morgan said.
Morgan County school board president Billy Rhodes said the new school cost $26 million, including the cost of a gym that opened in 2018. He said the district borrowed the money at a 1.75 percent interest rate.
“I think that’s the cheapest rate we’ve every borrowed money for Morgan County Schools,” Rhodes said.
Rhodes said online sales tax revenue will be used for the debt service.
The first phase of the new high school was an athletic facility for female and male students that included a 1,202-seat gymnasium and weight room shared by all the athletic programs at West Morgan. McKee and Associates designed it. The gym opened for the 2018-19 basketball season.
At a meeting earlier this year, the school board first introduced the idea of a new Priceville Junior High School.
“In May, we’re supposed to meet with the architect, and he’ll present us with the plans for the school,” Rhodes said. “We’ve got to get a cost estimate as well. That might come in May, but I’m not sure.”
Rhodes said they want to build a new school for Priceville because of substantial growth in that area. Holley said there are also plans to remodel the current junior high school because of outdated fixtures.
“Everywhere you drive (in Priceville) there’s subdivision after subdivision being built,” Rhodes said. “There’s 700 students in grades kindergarten through fourth at Priceville; the elementary school has been crowded for a long time. The plan is to move grade four over to the middle school to relieve some of the overcrowding.”
Rhodes said if interest rates keep increasing, building the new school at Priceville might not be possible.
“If we wait too long, interest rates might go up, and the school might be out of reach,” Rhodes said.
Morgan County Schools also began construction on a new athletic facility for Danville High earlier this school year with an original completion date set for May, but school board member Adam Glenn said the date has been set back as a result of weather.
“We’ve gotten so much rain here lately, and Danville is a very low-lying area, so when it rains, it gets muddy, and they can’t work out there,” Glenn said. “I’m hoping that it will be finished by the end of the summer before school starts.”
The 39,784-square-foot athletic facility cost $9 million and was paid for with Public School and College Authority funds, which are allocated by the state. The coed facility will have locker rooms and weight rooms for the baseball, softball and football teams and feature a competition gymnasium.
Glenn said the Danville High athletic facility will also feature a storm shelter. According to contract manager Shane Bagwell of Birmingham-based Volkert Inc., the storm shelter will hold up to 833 people.