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A Quonset hut-style building on the east side of Sparkman school

Sheriff opens office on Sparkman Elementary campus

Sparkman Principal Layne Dillard

By Michael Wetzel

For the Enquirer

The Morgan County sheriff’s department has opened an office on the Sparkman Elementary campus, and the school’s principal says students will benefit from increased safety and positive exposure to law enforcement.

A Quonset hut-style building on the east side of the school, which housed Morgan County Schools’ alternative and virtual classes in recent years, became available after the alternative school went virtual because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Sheriff Ron Puckett and Sparkman Principal Layne Dillard said while members of the Sheriff’s Office were touring the district’s schools to examine safety procedures during the summer, the officers inquired about the use of the school’s unused space including the detached Quonset hut.

“We don’t need a brick-and-mortar building for those programs any longer and that allowed us to have that spot for the Morgan County Sheriff’s Office,” said Dillard, whose school is east of Hartselle just off of Alabama 36.

Sheriff Ron Puckett said in early September, some of his department’s investigators began setting up shop in the former Morgan County Learning Center building. On Tuesday at the Morgan County Commission meeting, the commissioners voted 4-0 to approve a one-year lease with the school district at no cost to the county. The lease runs through Sept. 30, 2023.

It’s not known how long the students at the school with dwindling enrollment will be neighbors of the officers. The Morgan County school system is considering closing Sparkman Elementary, where Superintendent Robert Elliott Jr. has said the cost per student is $10,000 higher than at other schools in the district.

Commission Chairman Ray Long said the school district will pay the insurance on the building during the lease, and the Sheriff’s Office will pay for utilities and maintenance.

“It’s a good move for the school system and the Sheriff’s Office,” Long said. “It certainly benefits the school having that safety factor with the law enforcement

presence out there.” He said the venue was originally a basketball gymnasium when it opened about 50 years ago.

Dillard, a former safety director for the school system, said it eases her mind even more so after seeing school shootings in the news.

“The parents love it, we love it. We’re a radio away from having law enforcement here in 15 seconds. That’s a great response time. They’re literally here,” Dillard said.

Puckett said about 10 of his officers and their vehicles will frequently be at the office.

“This location is centrally located in the county and when they made the building available during conversations in midsummer, we jumped on it,” he said. “The school system has been good partners with us. (Superintendent) Robbie (Elliott) has been super to work with, and this simply makes the partnership stronger.”

Dillard said the partnership also allows the students to see law enforcement in a positive light and that could have a lasting effect on the kids.

“Having our kids exposed to law enforcement in that positive way and see them as people they have seen, people they like, people who are nice to them is so impactful. (The officers) come over and eat in our lunchroom here sometime,” she said. “The (school resource officer) program we have helps, but to have 10 or 12 guys over there come visit is important. The kids get to interact with them. They are welcome in our building, and we’ve told them that. They can come eat lunch or come read a book to the kids. They’re not just over there and we wave at them.”

 

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