Board members met with Mayor Sonny Posey, city council members and representatives from Hoar Program Management and Lathan Associates Architects Friday morning in the council chambers at city hall.
During the last combined meeting of the city council and school board, council members agreed to give the school district a budget of $52 million to operate on. Since that time, Jasper City Schools Superintendent Robert Sparkman and the board have met with officials from Hoar and Lathan to discuss and preview different designs of the school building and campus site that would match their budget.
“They’re here this morning to present [the design] to you and then if you’re approving, our board, we’ve actually scheduled a meeting at noon, will go back and approve that,” Sparkman began. “That will allow us then to get the bids out to begin the land prep, the grading and that kind of thing. The drawings of the internal details in the building will continue, but at least we will now be ready to start preparing for that.”
The latest drawing of the new two-story high school will continue to be located on the plot of land off Viking Drive above T. R. Simmons Elementary. The original plan had all athletics included on the campus site; however, the $52 million budget now will only allow for the new school building, a softball field and a practice field next to new tennis courts. Students who participate in the football, baseball and track programs will have to cross the street and use the current facilities.
“First of all I want to thank everybody for coming together so quickly. Time is becoming of the essence in this project,” said Jay Kirkpatrick, program manager for Hoar. “... Keep in mind this is approval of schematic design only; this is not the final design. You’re basically approving a footprint. The general shape of the building, all the programs that we’ve been told need to be a part of this project are in place.”
The final schematic design also shows all of the work on the east side of the creek bed now, and there is no longer a basement level. The new school building will consist of 250,000 square feet, which includes “everything you’ve originally asked for,” added Lathan Associates Sr. Vice President Lee Bryant.
There are some options, or alternatives, that can be looked at later on if funds are made available. Kirkpatrick and Rick Lathan of Lathan Associates Architects agreed that the possibility of a new baseball field or track could be placed in the area that will be graded as a grass field located between the softball field and the back of the school. The fine arts (choral and drama) have changed a little as well; they are no longer adjacent to the auditorium, but Sparkman said they are still close in proximity. The space allotted for safety reasons that would be used during inclement weather is located in the band, choral and drama areas. Lathan said that entire area will be better fortified to sustain 250 mph winds and virtually soundproof to keep noises from traveling to other parts of the school.
As of Friday, the estimated total budget for the project given by Hoar Program Management is $51,058,214.
Bids will go out at the end of each phase, Kirkpatrick said. “Any alternate item is outside the budget at present time. If we get a bid that’s lower than we expect and we can afford a new baseball field or a new track or new tennis courts, that’s when you apply those things.”
Some council members asked questions regarding culinary arts, a new track and parking issues, but the audience didn’t start voicing their concern until discussions about the students’ safety crossing the road to get to other sport facilities were brought up.
Bill McReynolds of Hoar Program Management explained that he was looking into having a pedestrian bridge built that would cross over Viking Drive.
“We are looking at a bridge over Viking Drive which would connect the two properties, and the mode for that would be through seeking federal grant money,” McReynolds said. “... So, we are in the process of going through that, and that process is coming up with a design, then we have to determine what we think the cost of that design would be, and then submit the grant and the application for the grant money, then wait for approval.”
Walker High School Principal Gary Boling said he saw three problems with having a bridge — supervision issues, an inconvenience of time and the safety factor of moving kids across a busy road. A number of teachers and coaches then began to speak their opinions on the situation.
“This is a grand plan, and I understand we’re down here today in hopes that you will vote to build a building that’s been proposed to you. I hope you will do that. I hope that as this building starts and you see the progress on it, the council can come back and consider alternate funding and more funding to complete this project and to put all of the athletics and all of the other facilities on site, so that we can condemn and get away from the inferior site that we’re in right now,” said WHS teacher Michael Cordle. “Five years from now, people are going to come from all over this state to watch Walker High School sports. They’re either going to come onto an old football stadium that’s run down and neglected, or they’re going to visit a new stadium on a new site. Which do you want people to see?
“I think it’s time Jasper becomes a show place for people,” he continued.
Head football coach Heath Brunner asked, “Is it OK to be mediocre ... or, are we saying let’s look at what the best scenario for our kids are?”
Council member Jennifer Williams Smith replied to Brunner saying, “Yes, I’d love to say let’s go ahead and put up the rest of the amount, but we have to realize too we have the budget of the city in our hands. ... We don’t want to be mediocre — I mean when you say $52 million that’s a huge chunk in what we were seeing that was what we were suppose to do — but as you sit there too there’s other things that can shut down the city altogether and the livelihood of each one and everyone of us, so we don’t want to overextend, too.”
After more deliberation, the council finally approved the final schematic design for the new high school to “get the ball rolling” and for bids to go out starting in April for land preparation.