Homewood city schools expansion, options discussed, Nov. 2, 2016

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Homewood City Schools Superintendent Bill Cleveland explains details of the schools plans to reduce overcrowding. “Class size” is the system’s greatest weakness, according to user surveys.

About 30 residents and city and school officials showed up at Hall Kent Elementary tonight to hear school expansion plans detailed from Homewood schools superintendent Bill Cleveland. Cleveland ended his talk with 45 minutes to spare for questions from residents in West Homewood, where many of the proposed changes would take place.

Those changes were first unveiled in September at a high school gathering of about 300 residents, where Cleveland reviewed the board’s plans to ease school crowding by building either a dedicated Fifth Grade wing on the middle school property or building additions to each each of the three elementary schools and middle school wings. The September presentation was capped with the long-rumored possibility of locating new high school in west Homewood, presumably on acreage the city had purchased just weeks before for $4.25 million. In another few weeks, those rumors were solidified with the council’s passage of a penny sales tax and a $110 million bond issue for shared capital spending by the city, schools and parks.

The detailed B L Harbert land study pointing to the relocation site is posted on the school system’s website. The

Addressing immediate concerns in the lower schools

Every classroom is being used at Hall Kent, all 55 classrooms are in use at Edgewood Elementary, and all 39 classrooms at Shades Cahaba Elementary.

Plan A is to add classrooms to each school and four classrooms each to the 6th, 7th and 8th grade wings at the middle school. A separate option is to add a fifth grade wing to the middle school. Cleveland wanted to clarify that the board will decide either to expand the elementary schools or add the fifth grade wing, not both.

The decision will be shaped through a strategic planning team approach to make it more transparent. For example, emails will go out after Christmas inviting people to join teams that will study different facets of planning, including facilities. The teams would begin working immediately; Cleveland said construction must begin this summer.

Things to consider in school expansion

The HMS kitchen is the most up-to-date and easiest to absorb the extra students.

Edgewood and Shades Cahaba schools have portions that were built in the 1920s, with pipes and utilities to mach, which will impact the decision.

The school system may have to consider temporary classrooms during construction.

Professional staff often leave for other schools during protracted construction projects.

“5 1/2 options” for expanding the high school

Bob Echols, center, sits with neighbors who objected to writing a "blank check" to the schools with little study or public deliberation to support it. The school board violated its own policies by accepting the unpaid land use study by B.L. Harbert, one resident said. All complained that a regressive "forever" sales tax was being passed to support a project with a finite set of expenses.

In October, residents from the Hollywood neighborhood objected to the $110 million bond issue, calling it a “blank check” to the schools with little study or public deliberation to support it. The school board violated its own policies by accepting the unpaid land use study by B.L. Harbert, one resident said. All complained that a regressive “forever” sales tax was being passed to support a project with a finite set of expenses.

The 1973 high school will celebrate its 50th anniversary at about the same time it reaches capacity of 1,200 students.

Cleveland presented and dismissed a succession of alternatives to relocating the high school, including purchasing the Palisades property (dismissed); staying at the current location and building a 4-6 level parking deck, and/or moving an auditorium and competition gym to the rear of the property to make way for more classrooms; expanding the high school into the flood prone area by building it onto elevated supports, or “stilts”. Another alternative under study involves moving the middle school students to the high school and building high school facilities at the middle school location, the so-called Middle School swap option. Cleveland said he is seeking estimates on the cost of leveling the ground for ballfields and even a stadium. Construction would be a costly and disruptive construction process, he said.

The preferred choice is the relocation to West Homewood, estimated at $80 million but providing an inclusive campus experience and an opportunity to share ballfields and facilities with the parks.

How will the $110 million be divided? What about the tax?

Vance Moody, outgoing West Homewood councilman, explains how the incoming council must decide to divide the $110 bond money between city, parks and schools. Schools will get approximately half, he said.

Vance Moody, outgoing West Homewood councilman, explains how the incoming council must decide to divide the $110 bond money between city, parks and schools. Schools will get approximately half, he said.

Outgoing councilman Vance Moody explained that the $110 borrowed through the bond issue will be restricted to capital uses. How that money will be divided hasn’t been decided, but approximately half will go to the schools and the rest will go for the jail and parks improvements, to be decided by the next council administration and park board.

Cleveland said the city in 1996 designated one penny of its three cent sales taxes to the board of education, but that is not the case with the additional penny just passed. The debt service on the bond issue is $6.2 million a year. However, he hoped that some of it would be directed to schools after the bonds are repaid.

Some questions

Will the Oxmoor Boulevard “turkey foot” be widened to accept more traffic? Moody said the Oxmoor improvements would extend from Green Springs Highway to Barbers, would include some widening and eliminate three signals to speed westbound traffic. The project was re-initiated six years ago and has been stalled over acquisition of right-of-way. It is scheduled to begin in 2017.

Cleveland said the schools would consider starting and ending the day earlier to avoid traffic from the nearby UPS facility and the city’s planned public safety building on West Valley Avenue.

What is the effect of passing Amendment 14? Cleveland said he’s in favor of the amendment (which would prevent legal challenges from overturning hundreds of local bills passed without meeting technical state voting rules—including Jefferson County’s special sales tax for new school construction and technology). He said it’s possible funds of $685,000/year from that tax could be used for school personnel, which could translate into 8.8 teaching units for Homewood. Another $35 million from that tax could be put to use for road work, which would ease maintenance pressures placed on municipalities since the county lost the occupational tax, and indirectly benefit schools.

He cautioned that the Jefferson County portion of the amendment could be challenged in the courts. Even without a legal challenge, funds would have to be collected for a year before they were used, he said.

Cleveland went on to explain how local funds, such as Homewood’s dedicated sales tax, pay for 70 teachers above what the state can provide.

What are the cons of a West Homewood high school relocation?

Cleveland said traffic and $80,000 pricetag were the only two issues working against the relocation.

The meeting broke up at about 8:15 p.m.

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