City Council, BOE discuss plans for middle school
by Paige Rentz
prentz@annistonstar.com
Aug 23, 2013 | 4371 views |  0 comments | 62 62 recommendations | email to a friend | print
The Anniston School Board meeting with the Anniston City Council on Friday at the Anniston City Meeting Center.    Photo by Bill Wilson.
The Anniston School Board meeting with the Anniston City Council on Friday at the Anniston City Meeting Center. Photo by Bill Wilson.
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School letting out on Friday Aug. 23, 2013.  Anniston Middle School.  Photo by Bill Wilson.
School letting out on Friday Aug. 23, 2013. Anniston Middle School. Photo by Bill Wilson.
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After more than an hour of discussion Friday, members of the Anniston City Council and Board of Education decided they need more information before they can begin planning to close Anniston Middle School and open a junior high at the site of Cobb Elementary School.

“I think we’ve been given homework,” Superintendent Joan Frazier said.

Mayor Vaughn Stewart said the city will update a June 2012 appraisal that valued the middle school property at $3.2 million based on the sales of comparable property, or $8.4 million based on the land and buildings.

Additionally, both the city and the school board will hire financial advisers to explore the best solutions to pay for the property exchange and the new Cobb Junior High School.

“We’re at a point where it’s time to talk dollars and cents,” said Jimmie Thompson, the school district’s chief financial officer. “I think we’ve been around the table, we know what it’s going to cost, we’ve had appraisals ... Maybe we’re not there, but we’ve had five of these meetings.”

Thompson suggested members of the two bodies talk about what they can afford “instead of going round and round.”

School board President Donna Ross told council members the next step in the process belongs to the council, as her board has voted to close the middle school.

Stewart told members that he felt the easiest route would be for the city to update the appraisal and then make an offer to the school board.

“We can negotiate any others, replacement costs and any other things,” he said.

Board member C.K. Huguley said she feels the plan needs to be an even exchange. She also noted that the board wants what is best for students. A state-of-the-art junior high could help attract students to Anniston, she said.

In May, the Board of Education unanimously voted to close the middle school and convert Cobb Elementary into a junior high school for seventh- and eighth-graders. Under the plan, sixth-grade students would be dispersed among the four remaining elementary schools. Preliminary plans for this proposal put the cost at $8.73 million

Since then, discussions of plans to convert Cobb into a junior high school have evolved into plans to start from scratch at the site and build a new school.

Preliminary designs for the new Cobb Junior High presented to board members last month by architect Seawell McKee show a cost of nearly $9 million, an added cost of about $265,000 over the prior proposal. Additional options, including outdoor athletic facilities, a 500-seat auditorium and a storm shelter, could push the cost of the new proposal to $14.86 million. The school board has not formally voted on either plan.

The city already owns more than 27 acres north of the middle school property, and city officials want to combine that with the school board’s 24 acres to offer a more than 50-acre site to developers, according to City Planner Toby Bennington.

Officials see the location as one that will be attractive to commercial developers, with a Lowe’s already across the street and proximity to the future highway exchange that will connect U.S. 431 and Alabama 21 to the interstate via Veterans Memorial Parkway.

Councilwoman Millie Harris said she understood Thompson’s frustration with the ongoing talking, talking, talking about the issue.

“Here’s something that everyone needs to know,” she said. “We have a window of opportunity with this retail situation, and if we drag it out too long, it’s going to go away and it’s going to be another lost opportunity for Anniston. Time is of the essence.”

Staff writer Paige Rentz: 256-235-3564. On Twitter @PRentz_Star.

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