Bids to construct a new Tallassee High School opened on Oct 1. The Tallassee City Schools board is set to award the contract at its monthly meeting.
"The contract calls for tearing down the main THS building and replacing it on the same site with a building matching the architectural style of the old one,” board president Don Bryant said.
“There will also be an attached building, sitting approximately where Preer Street used to run beside the school. That building will house an auditorium and music facilities. All other structures will remain for now; the reasonable assumption is that they will be replaced sometime in the future.”
Remodeling the existing building was discussed early in the process but after hearing reports from the city's fire and police chief concerning fire hazards and security issues and after determining the cost and feasibility of expanding the auditorium, or somehow making that space useful if the auditorium were replaced, board members made the choice to abandon that option.
These new plans are nothing new.
"Every year, each school district is required to submit to the state board of education a five-year plan of priority capital improvements,” Bryant said. “Going back at least 15 years, the Tallassee City School's five-year plans have listed ‘new high school’ and ‘new music facility.’ As far back as 2000, the plan called for the purchase of land adjacent to the high school. So, this is not a new need. Every school board and every superintendent going back at least that far have recognized it. We are finally addressing the needs.”
The current building has been in use for many decades.
"Yes, it has been here a long time — for 92 years in fact. But it has not been sufficient for all that time,” Bryant said. “We already mentioned the issues of fire and security, which are primary. Beyond that, the two areas that have long been inadequate in terms of size are the auditorium and the music facilities. The student body outgrew the auditorium seating capacity years ago. The auditorium stage has been too small to accommodate music performances for a decade or more."
As those music programs expanded, the band could no longer fit everyone on stage, even after the stage was extended forward (taking out more seating in the process). The stage itself, and lack of backstage and dressing areas, have long been bottlenecks for the choir program. The band, its instruments and uniforms cannot fit in the band room, and the choir has to make use of a portable building to handle some of the classes.
“For the better part of the past 25 years, the band and choir staffs have done wonders in building impressive programs in the face of these impediments. And the administration has managed in an auditorium too small for the student body. But the students deserve better than that — at the very least, room into which they can all fit.”
So why has this taken so long? The city council passed the new sales tax, part of which goes for this project in 2018.
"Because the superintendents and board have been very, very conscientious about getting as much of what we need for the money we are willing to commit,” Bryant said. “As noted earlier, more than one building option has been explored. And, more than one funding scheme has been examined as well. We do not want to put the school system in a position of having to make cuts in programs or personnel in order to make the payments on this project somewhere down the road.”
It is impossible to predict the economy 30 years ahead but that uncertainty will not stop this project.
"Or even one year,” Bryant said. “But if we use that as an excuse, we can guarantee that our students and staff will continue to have to live with inadequate facilities. We have been able to get money at historically low rates (see below) such that we feel very comfortable about being able to make the payments.”
The new school project will cost an estimated $16.5 million over a 30-year bond payment.
"Just as the city was recently able to refinance their bonds on such good terms, that same financial environment meant that we were able to issue $16.5 million worth of bonds going out 30 years, at the lowest rate in U.S. history,” Bryant said. “Plus, this year Alabama is offering each school system state bond money for projects such as this. It's no stretch to say that we are embarking on this project on the most favorable financial terms we could have imagined. With prudent planning, redesign and patience, we will have saved an estimated $3.5 million over the life of the bond issue.”
The board's construction timeline begins next month.
"Plans call for construction on the auditorium/music facility to begin in November of this year and end in March of 2022,” Bryant said. “Demolition of the main building is to begin in June of 2021, with a goal of completion in time to move in by August 2022.”
According to Bryant, this project will move THS to the next level and provide the needed accommodations for students, teachers, faculty and staff need to optimize operations.
"This project will go a long way toward giving the students, faculty and administration a high school campus that meets their needs,” Bryant said. “Will other buildings have to be worked on in the future? Absolutely. But this answers the most pressing needs right now and sets us up to have a more secure overall campus when future construction is undertaken. Besides meeting the obvious necessities, it is reasonable to expect this to have a positive impact on the school itself and on the city in the long run. Our city's willingness to invest in its schools cannot help but make a favorable impression on families considering locating here, on quality educators looking for employment, and on businesses looking to build.”
With these plans in place, Bryant has full faith they will soon come to fruition.
"The schools are just as much a part of the town's infrastructure as gas and water lines,” Bryant said. “The taxpayers, mayor and council can all be proud of the commitment that has been made, and the results which will follow.”