School facility report defines problemsBy MARLAN JONES,
Bailey Consulting Group of Jackson was recently commissioned by the Simpson County School Board to conduct a needs assessment of the school facilities in the county. The board reviewed the results of the assessment at their latest meeting.
The next step in the process called for community input, and meetings were held at Mendenhall High School, Magee High School, and Simpson Central.
A presentation was given to the public with details of the assessment that listed strengths and weaknesses of Simpson County School facilities as presently constructed. A detailed description was given of each school.
Mendenhall Elementary is one of the better facilities in the county, according to the Bailey assessment. However, Bailey suggested that the old cafeteria at Mendenhall Elementary is taking up valuable space that should be used for something else. The presenter also suggested that the old Head Start building attached to the elementary school is being under-utilized. The building would need moderate renovation and upgrades, but otherwise is valuable space that should be used.
Mendenhall Junior High was assessed to be the worst facility in the county. The assessment noted major facility concerns that included poor security, paving deteriorations and drainage issues of water that has nowhere to drain due to the topography. The land is flat, which has led to standing water and water damage to several of the buildings. Bailey found that the bathroom facilities are not up to par, and several little used areas are creating hazards. Aside from these factors the school runs fine, he said.
Mendenhall High School, according to the report, has student class, meaning that the school operates with inadequate classroom space for the number of students served. Another concern was security due to the openness of the campus and lack of a strong front door presence. The school was in need of an extra layer of security. Other renovations included expanding the cafeteria dining area.
Magee Elementary School is the newest facility in the county and needed very few improvements. Magee Middle School, like Mendenhall Junior High, needed a lot of attention to bring the facility up to standard. Magee High, a newer facility, operated well, but still needs some renovations.
The final meeting was held to discuss Simpson Central School, which was also in need of major renovations.
Three solutions were presented to the public. The first was to fix the existing building where they sit right now. This option was described as the least expensive at a cost of approximately 28 million dollars. There would still be issues with unused spaces, and Mendenhall Jr. High’s return on investment would be low.
The second solution, which was the least recommended, was to build a new high school for the entire county, which would cost approximately 70 million dollars.
The third option offered by Bailey Consulting Group was that the school district re-align existing facilities and their purpose. It called for the Mendenhall Jr. High and Magee Middle School buildings to be closed. The elementary schools would absorb the fifth and sixth grades, becoming K-6 campuses. This would be easy according to Bailey because the county has very good elementary facilities that are being under-utilized.
New additions would need to be built onto the high schools to absorb the seventh and eighth grades, becoming 7-12 campuses. New classrooms, expanded cafeterias, and an auxiliary gym would be in order to facilitate this change. This option would cost the county approximately 50 million dollars.
The latter was the most recommended plan of action that would most likely be phased in over several years. Citizens at the meetings had strong opinions about improving the schools. It was unanimously agreed that doing nothing was not an option. One citizen suggested that the school district provide the public with the life expectance of these facilities and the cost to maintain them. Citizens would then be able to compare this amount versus the cost of a new facility and lower maintenance costs over time. There was strong support for spending money to upgrade the facilities to reflect improvement. The facilities need to be upgraded to facilitate teaching in 2019.
With the conditions of Mendenhall Jr. High worsening, the school district is preparing to spend a substantial amount of money in repairs, according to Jeffery Walker.
Board member Danny Cowart said, “This is a prime time to align our academic improvements with improvements in our facilities.”
Representatives from Bailey gathered suggestions and will include the public’s input when readdressing the board. Additional meetings to gather input from the public are planned for the future.