Starkville-Oktibbeha Consolidated School District will consider investing $42 million in major renovations at most of its buildings, particularly Starkville High School, in a few years at the suggestion of a consulting firm.
The Ridgeland-based Bailey Education Group studied the district’s facilities over the past few months and found that most buildings need several repairs. SHS, Armstrong Junior High and all the elementary schools need electrical upgrades, repainting and bathroom renovations, Bailey Education Group president Gary Bailey told the SOCSD Board of Trustees at its Tuesday meeting.
SHS in particular needs several security upgrades, since it’s currently “an open campus” that anyone could access at any time, he said.
“The site is somewhat chaotic, and that has to do with parking and circulation being disorganized,” he said. “The new front entry to the building is not a safe drop-off point for kids.”
Building a completely new high school could cost at least $55 million, which Bailey said is not financially feasible for SOCSD. He proposed renovating and reorganizing the SHS campus, a $37 million endeavour, and renovating other buildings for an additional $5 million.
The proposed reorganization would improve the fences around the school’s perimeter and move the main entrance to the east and most parking to the south. The Millsaps Career and Technology Center would move east of Victory Lane, according to a diagram Bailey showed the board.
He proposed a new gym and a new theater, both north of Yellow Jacket Drive, to help SHS remain “academically competitive.” The district should keep the existing gym and theater for teaching physical education and performing arts, respectively, Bailey said, and he also suggested additions to Millsaps and to the dining facilities.
Proposed renovations at other SOCSD buildings include replacing leaky windows at West Elementary, reroofing at Henderson Ward Stewart Elementary and more wheelchair accessibility at Sudduth Elementary.
“These are not wish list items,” Bailey said. “These are the things we think are important. The wish list is much longer than this, and these are what we consider to be priority items.”
The Partnership Middle School on the Mississippi State University campus just opened in August and therefore is “in good shape,” Bailey said. The study did not include The Learning Center or Emerson Family School.
SOCSD Chief Financial Officer Tammie McGarr said the district will be free of some debt in a few years and will have a plan in place by then to ideally be prepared for the proposed $42 million project.
The district could use a bond issue or its fund balance to pay for the project, and “it takes two years to implement something this complex,” Bailey said.
Superintendent Eddie Peasant and Board President Debra Prince both told The Dispatch the proposed project would be a worthy investment.
“We know the needs, so it’s just going to be a matter of prioritizing and getting more community input,” Prince said.
Peasant said the district is “probably overdue” in considering some of the renovations.
“We have to keep the buildings updated and relevant and in physical condition to be able to serve our kids and have a clean, safe learning environment,” he said.
In other business, 12 students and 12 staff recently tested positive for COVID-19, and 124 students and 41 staff are currently quarantined due to close contact, according to the data on the SOCSD website.
Peasant told the board he had been considering moving SHS to an entirely virtual learning environment this week, but administrators told him the teachers were “stepping up” and handling in-person learning challenges well.
“They’re trying to keep things going and trying to make it to the break,” Peasant said. “As long as they’re able to do that and we’re able to serve our students, then we’re pushing along.”
All SOCSD sixth-graders had to learn online for several days in November after some PMS teachers had to quarantine.
The district has added Wi-Fi to 25 buses and several points on its campuses and in the community in order to make online learning more accessible for students, Peasant said.
He also said the district has contacted parents whose children are in virtual learning to ask them if they want to continue next semester. He previously told The Dispatch that administrators strongly encourage parents to enroll their children in traditional, in-person learning next semester if that student is not achieving at least Cs in their classes this semester.
Tess Vrbin was previously a reporter for The Dispatch.
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