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March 9, 2017 9:41:26 AM
The Starkville-Oktibbeha Consolidated School District-Mississippi State University partnership school is now projected to open in the late fall of 2018, three to four months later than previously expected, SOCSD Superintendent Lewis Holloway confirmed Wednesday.
The project, which will house and educate all sixth- and seventh-grade students in Oktibbeha County, is still moving forward, he said, but the administrative process developing the school has slowed down its progress and tentatively pushed back the opening date.
Holloway said he's hopeful the school will be ready in October 2018, but a tentative bidding and construction schedule released by the district also targets Nov. 12, 2018, as the completion date after a 14-month build.
That same schedule projects the SOCSD Board of Trustees to award contracts to a bidding construction company in September.
Working with the university and State College Board is a more-involved process to which the district is unaccustomed, Holloway said, and the extra levels of bureaucracy adds time to the process surrounding the school's development.
"Normally, a school district just designs and builds a new campus. It's a much speedier process (without university and state-level involvement)," he said. "We had to go through the (university's) design review committee, and that took several months that we weren't anticipating."
The outgoing superintendent did not express frustration with the process but said that "it's taking more time than expected."
MSU Chief Communications Officer Sid Salter said the new timeline estimate is a conservative one and the university is confident it and SOCSD "can successfully navigate any issues that arise."
"In any project of this nature, such delays are often unavoidable," he said.
If the facility is eventually delayed, SOCSD Board of Trustees President Keith Coble said the district will make due with its existing facilities until students and teachers are ready to take over the new building.
"Even if the completion is after school starts, our district personnel are amazingly efficient at moving classrooms," Coble said. "There are several financial and legal steps to the partnership school, but it is well worth it."
While the final approval of designs and plans are still pending, the board has already approved other legal facets involving the partnership school, including a ground lease with the university.
On Tuesday, trustees greenlit a joint SOCSD-MSU operating agreement for the new campus.
The document makes the school district responsible for the general administration of the school and gives SOCSD the sole responsibility for hiring all of the campus' faculty and staff. Its administration, however, will be selected with stakeholder input, which will include feedback from the university.
In return, MSU will provide professional development for SOCSD faculty and opportunities for teachers to participate in collaborative projects with the university.
Both entities, the agreement states, will work together to identify collaborative opportunities on curriculum, instruction, assessment and evaluation for students and teacher education.
Once completed, the roughly $30 million project will serve as a model education platform in the state and help solve issues with classroom overcrowding created after the Oktibbeha County School District and Starkville School District merged.
Funding for the partnership school comes from three levels: state lawmakers appropriated $10 million, MSU pledged approximately $10 million in land and money and a local $16 million bond issuance will fund construction costs, furnishings and other districtwide infrastructure needs.
Carl Smith covers Starkville and Oktibbeha County for The Dispatch. Follow him on Twitter @StarkDispatch
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