Residents respond to plans for new Walker High School
by Jennifer Cohron
Dec 11, 2012 | 4147 views | 0 0 comments | 20 20 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Area residents were curious about a number of issues regarding the proposed new Walker High School during a forum held at Jasper City Hall Monday afternoon. However, no one asked, “Is it necessary?”

“I think everybody here agrees that we need it. Not just that we want it but we need it, and the reason is the quality of education that the students will receive in this building,” said Brack O’Rear.

O’Rear, a retired local principal, said his granddaughter is now sitting in the same classrooms that he did in the 1950s. He pointed out that while the view outside the windows has changed from a cow pasture to a college campus, students are studying in a science lab that hasn’t been state-of-the art in decades.

“I think our children are getting short-changed,” O’Rear said.

Jasper City Schools Superintendent Robert Sparkman agreed.

“You’ve heard of the No Child Left Behind law. With our situation, our children have left our building behind,” Sparkman said. “Our building is a hindrance to our students being able to access the education they really need and deserve. Our facilities have got to catch up with our children and the programs we offer.”

The new school would be located on a 102-acre site on Viking Drive that the Jasper Board of Education purchased nine years ago with the intention of building a new high school. The project was shelved due to a downturn in the economy.

The current plans are for a 285,000 square foot facility. A new athletic complex and 1,500-seat performing arts center are also included.

Sports programs based at Maddox Middle School, which has no athletic facilities of its own, would also use the new fields for practices as well as games, and the performing arts center would be available for use by the community.

The project, which is estimated at $61 million, would be financed by a 1-cent sales tax hike that would have to be approved by the Jasper City Council. No one at Monday’s meeting expressed opposition to the tax increase.

The first question fielded by Sparkman concerned the appraisal value of the current WHS campus.

Sparkman said although he is not certain of the exact number, he has often been asked about it by residents concerned about what will happen to the school.

He added that he is confident it will be put to good use by either the board of education, the city, Bevill State or a prospective buyer.

“It’s not going to be allowed to deteriorate and become an eyesore,” Sparkman said.

Other audience members wanted to discuss how the city as a whole will benefit from the new school both during and after construction as well as what plans are in place for future growth.

Sparkman said the classrooms will accommodate the school’s current population of approximately 850 while the common areas such as the cafeteria and hallways are designed for up to 1,100 students.

Residents also learned that only 60 percent of the more than 100 acres will be developed.

The rest will be left as woodland but could be used for more construction in the future.