The Tallassee Board of Education approved a plan for a new parking area at Tallassee High School during its June 4 meeting and work is scheduled to begin by July 1, superintendent Wade Shipman said.
According to the plans, portions of King and Preer streets, which run adjacent to the high school, will be rerouted to create a large parking area for students and alleviate congestion on those streets where students currently park and walk to class.
Work which was scheduled to begin June 1 was delayed because the original bids were double the amount budgeted for the project so the board rebid them. Shipman said the parking lot project will cost $1,096,500 and should be completed by the fall.
According to Shipman, many of the original plans had to be altered to bring the project in under budget.
"We were going to have to relocate the greenhouse, reorient the band field and do a lot of work on the back side (and) relocate some of the power,” he said. “All of that was going to add a tremendous amount of expense that we basically said we can live with the way some of this is right now. But this really gives us the parking changes that we are needing and it lays the site out for future building."
However, hopes for a massive rebuilding of THS — including a new main campus building, an auditorium, gym and cafeteria — far outstrip the money available. Shipman said the entire project will cost nearly $35 million and a new main campus building will consume more than half the budget.
“We don't have enough money to build the main building unless we spend every cent of all the money we have, which means everything we save, everything we borrow,” he said. “Then we are left with nothing for 30 years and we have no safety net. I think that would be a poor decision.
"If we redo the main building and we don't put an auditorium in it, then you just have a building. We think the projected cost is in the low $20 million range to rebuild the auditorium and the main building."
The original plan was to build a performing arts center to house the school's music program but since then the concept of an auditorium has been adopted.
“It started off with a goal to improve the facilities for the band and choir because the facilities are so small compared to the number of students that we have going through,” Shipman said. “The auditorium doesn't even fit all of our students. We realized that we are going to have to rebuild that auditorium at some point. So we combined the idea of having an auditorium that is big enough for our entire student body, faculty and staff along with the needs of the band and choir to have larger facilities. To meet the needs of 200 to 250 students, that is what brought us to the point of having a performing arts center.”
Shipman said he understands many want to see the main campus building come to fruition before any other brick-and-mortar projects at THS.
"I know there is this sentiment that some people would like to have the main building built first … we will end up with a new building but we will still have the same problems, which is a band and choir facility that doesn't meet our needs,” he said.
Shipman said the board is committed to completing the project with input from the City of Tallassee.
The idea of using the nearby Mt. Vernon Theatre as a performing arts center for city schools has come up in the past but Shipman said the stage there is too small and could lead to a security risk.
"I've discussed that with different people within the school system and we don't think that will work,” he said. “We are talking security; how are you going to move the students from here to there?”
Shipman said it is difficult to know exactly how much funding the school system will receive in the future although the current budget is strong.
"We have a really good education budget in the state,” he said. “Sometimes, having money is just as much of a problem as not having money. If we look at that and say we have ‘X’ amount of money, then people want to spend it. If we commit the money now, in five years it's not going to be here. But the kind of commitment we would be making, you're expecting that money to be here for 30 years. If you're committing and you're going to cut things to make it work right now, I would be for doing that if we were at a low in our budget process because then there would be growth in our budget so it would not be worse than what we were at that point. We’re at a peak in our budget process right now."
In an effort to maintain the Tallassee system’s $6 million reserve, Shipman said he and board members are trying to avoid spending money on the same things every year and said another option to fund the project is a pay-as-you-go plan.
"Our plan right now is to use the money we have," he said. "If we pay for it all up front, there is no sustainability issue so a lot of things we have done have been money out of the budget that are one-time expenses. We fix our parking lot, the work at the ballfield, one-time expense."
The Tallassee system currently receives revenue from a 1-cent sales tax and another half-cent sales tax revenue created last year but neither revenue stream is sufficient to fund the projects at THS.