The City School Board is going forward with plans for a new high school. But they’re looking at the project with an even more critical eye and asking hard questions in light of the COVID-19 impact on the economy.
It came up when the Board held its annual meeting Monday night. Architect Seawell McKee and staff presented several schematic drawings of how a new high school might be laid out on the existing Guntersville High campus.
“There are a couple more meetings we want to have,” Board president Trey Giles said. “We hope to have a decision in the next couple of months. We have to take COVID-19 into account and make sure people want us to go forward. We want to build the school as fast as possible and as economically as possible. But we have to make sure we’re not trying to overburden our community. If it’s not the right time, it’s not the right time.”
Leamon Yarbrough, a former banker who is now a realtor, said bond rates are so low that the Board has a rare opportunity to get some very attractive financing for a new school and he talked about some current economic issues the Board might want to consider (see other story).
The School Board is asking the citizens of Guntersville to approve a new 9-mill property tax to fund construction of the new high school. The proposed bill to allow the referendum on the tax is currently pending in the legislature and no firm date has been set for the election.
Giles said after the meeting he wanted to meet with the system’s principals and others on the proposed high school.
“It may seem like we’re taking 3 steps forward and 2 steps back,” he said. “But we do want feedback from the community for when it comes time to make the decision.”
Giles said he is “cautiously optimistic” on the local economy returning to normal and on the school project.
“The citizens are our bosses,” he said. “But I don’t think anyone has an agenda on the high school project. We just want what is best for our children and our teachers.”
The Board has been looking at about 6 different schematics from McKee & Associates. While they did not choose a design, it was clear from Monday night’s discussion that they favored one known as “2B” a derivative of Plan B that was presented to the Board previously. Each plan was assigned a letter rather than a number.
Board member Whitney Mastin worked with McKee on that plan following the last Board meeting.
“We want to consider safety, academics, athletics, the arts, everything really, and get what is best long term for our students,” Mastin said.
McKee said 2B would provide for “good circulation” of students and would include a “really nice plaza area” in front of the football stadium.
“The band room would be right by the field,” he said. “The band could come through the plaza on game day. It would be kind of like Tiger Walk at Auburn. There are a lot of neat things you could do with the plaza.”
Some outdoor seating for student dining would also be near the cafeteria.
Principal Roseanne Mabry said she liked that plan the best too. She said it has everything under one roof in the main school.
“As people come down the mountain on Highway 431, they’re going to see the front of the school and not a parking lot,” Mabry said.
The plan is also seen as being the least disruptive for students.
The school would likely lose the bandroom, shop and auditorium during construction. But McKee said makeshift space for band during construction could be developed in the upper level of the existing gym.
“It would be temporary, but that space would be better than nothing,” Giles said.
McKee said once the decision is made on the schematic, “we can get down and dirty with some drawings on the real buildings. We work at the pleasure of the Board and we are ready to take those steps when you are.”
Board member Laura Kappler-Roberts asked if there might an opportunity to revise the traffic plan. She said it’s better for an 18-year-old driver to use the light to get onto Highway 431 rather than come out on Spring Creek Drive where they have to merge into traffic.
McKee said they could drop down the hill in front of the high school and construction area and put in a temporary road during construction.
“It would not be hard to do at all,” McKee said.