On a three to two vote, the Simpson County School Board has moved forward with a plan to offer a consolidated county high school.
The facility that would combine Magee and Mendenhall high schools would be located in Magee in the former Pioneer facility at the intersection of Highways 49 and 28 west.
The motion to proceed came during the board’s video conference and was offered by Stan Bulger and seconded by Patrice Boykin. Board President Danny Cowart voted to proceed with the plan.
Voicing opposition was board member Stacey Herrin, who said she did not support busing children from her part of the county to Magee. She added that if the situation were reversed where children were bused to Braxton from Magee people would not support that idea either.
Board member Lillie Hardy said she did not support the issue and questioned the decision to move forward. Hardy did not attend the meeting in February when the vote was taken to proceed with the 5.0 plan for improvement of school facilities. The vote to proceed in the February meeting was four to nothing.
The 5.0 plans calls for:
* Renovating existing campuses for priority needs
*Closing Mendenhall Junior High and moving some students to Mendenhall High School to create a grades six through nine campus
*Making Magee and Mendenhall Elementary kindergarten through fifth grade campuses
*Addressing renovations and additions to make Simpson Centeral kindergarten through ninth grade rather than eighth grade
*Consolidating high schools, buying an existing office complex and creating an addition for a gym, fine arts space and cafeteria for grades ten through twelve
*Renovating the existing stadium at Mendenhall High School as Simpson County Stadium
The estimated cost of all of these improvements would be $37.5 million. The amount would require a bond issue to be voted on and passed by the residents of Simpson County.
Cowart sent a letter to fellow board members stating his opinion dated May 12. In the letter he outlines why he believes having one high school with a unified school system is the best plan for Simpson County. The original option of a consolidated high school had been ruled out because of the cost of building an all new facility. The board had discussed locating such a facility near the Copiah Lincoln center on Hwy. 49.
Then the owners of the buildings formerly occupied by Pioneer Health decided to auction that property. The auction day came and went without a buyer. According to Cowart’s letter, Patrice Boykin made the district aware of the possibility of acquiring this property. That led Bailey Consulting, the firm working with the district on school facility improvements, to add an alternate plan to the mix. The Pioneer property already contains reasonably new structures that some board members thought could be converted into educational facilities. The goal would be to have all tenth, eleventh and twelfth grade students enrolled in one school.
This would give students access to the Magee Sports Plex for baseball and other sports, and Mendenhall would provide a track and football facility in a renovated stadium.
All other options that have come before the board also require that a bond issue be passed to meet the physical plant needs for the county.
Cowart said a consolidated high school is the best option because of the amount of building space that can be obtained for the amount of 57 cents on the dollar.
Members of the board said that while this may not be the best time to move on a project of this scale, they feel that some urgency is necessary in order to take advantage of this potential property.
Following the vote, Stacey Herring left the video meeting.
The board will now have Bailey Consulting move forward in planning community input into the project.
The board instructed Superintendent Greg Paes to proceed with getting quotes to renovate the Mendenhall Elementary campus because the Mendenhall Junior High facility will close and the elementary requires some improvements to prepare for fifth graders to be added to that campus.
The board heard from Mendenhall High School’s head baseball coach, Ryan Neely, who told the board of the need for new facilities. He said the field does not drain properly because it was built on a clay base, and they have had as much as 2 feet of water in the concession stands and bathroom facilities. He said that the season starts in February and the team cannot get on the fields until mid-March to practice or play games.
He noted that the fields were not a regulation size, adding that lighting is not sufficient and that power poles are leaning, which creates a hazard for the players. He also said that the fields were in “a bad environment,” referring to some neighbors in the surrounding area.
Parent Michael Eubanks also addressed the board, echoing Neely’s sentiments about conditions and stating that it was not unusual to smell marijuana smoke drifting across the field from the neighboring apartments.
In estimates presented to the board by Jeffery Walker the cost of new fields came in at around $750,000. The architectural estimate was up to $3 million for a state of the art facility. However, building new fields would require the district to seek additional acreage. The board took no action on the request.
Dr, Robert Sanders, director of Human Resources for school district, reported that only 12 vacancies are left to fill for the upcoming school year. This compares to 42 for the same time period last year.
Superintendent Paes reported that the field house under construction at Magee High School may be complete as soon as August 1, which would allow use for the start of the new school year.
The board approved leases on 16th section land for hunting and fishing rights: Frank Rutzuto 253 acres for $2,660; Safari Hunting Club, 200 acres for $1,200 per year; Eugene Blair, 324 acres for $1,944 a year; David Murphy, 10 acres for $300 per year; John Herrington, 33 acres for $198 a year; John Eliott 60 acres for $2,400 per year; Edwin Sandifer $500 for 80 acres; Joe McGuffee $648 for 108 acres; Allen Maddox 155 acres for $937.75 per year; W.W. Hunting Club, $1,682.50 for 280 acres a year.