Facing the issue of COVID-19 has the community looking at things from a different perspective.
The Simpson County School Board finds itself in a place where it has never been. Operating in a pandemic environment is something that is new to everyone and that can alter plans for changes that were previously considered necessary.
Governor Tate Reeves has declared a state of emergency and mandated school closure until April 17, another month from now. The question is have we seen the most extreme circumstances thus far?
The answer is likely no.
So the district will have to operate from the perspective that things may get worse instead of better and more changes may be required. This not only places hardships on students but the school district leadership, parents and teachers as well.
When the virus came along, requiring emergency measures and changes in operation, the school district was at the point of getting feedback for a central plan for needed improvements within the school system.
The board has reviewed all options and has two plans to submit to the public for consideration. One is being referred to as plan 4.01, and the other as plan 5.0. Discussions on these plans for facility improvement have been taking place since before the beginning of this school year.
The biggest difference between the two plans is that the 5.0 plan calls for a consolidated high school for grades 10 through 12. The goal of the school board is to survey the community and determine what the residents want before proceeding. Either of the two options will require a bond issue in order to proceed.
The board’s plan is to gather data from the community as to what they feel is the best course of action for the district.
After evaluating the site, both plans require that the existing Mendenhall Junior High School facility will need to be shuttered because of its generally poor condition, its tendency to flood, and the age of the facility.
Both plans also include consolidating classes into other existing facilities. Plans are already in place to make Magee Elementary into a kindergarten through fifth grade school for next school year.
Also both plans call for repairs to mechanical and electrical systems and repair and replacement in bathrooms. The facility study noted that most of the school facilities have needed repairs to ceilings, lights and floors. Minor roof repairs are needed in the district. The closing of Mendenhall Junior High will require renovation at Mendenhall Elementary School to accommodate additional grades.
The cost for plan 4.1 is estimated at $30.7 million. The cost of the 5.0 plan with a consolidated state of the art high school would be $37.5 million. According to Carl Bailey, the consulting engineer who led the facility study, the county has bonding authority to cover these projects, but a bond would have to be approved by the citizens of Simpson County.
The 5.0 plan also allows for renovation of the athletic facilities at Mendenhall High School to be used as a consolidated field at an approximate cost of $2 million.
This is part of the process that the school board completed in conjunction with the outside firm of Baily Consulting.
Community meetings to gather input on the proposed plan will have to wait for a resolution to the caronavirus pandemic.
School Board President Danny Cowart said, “Of course, we are postponing our plans right now. People’s minds are on getting through the crisis. But we are super excited about the possibilities of a new educational climate in Simpson County that these proposed new and updated facilities can bring to our students.”