Questions on scope of school bond issue

Published 1:34 pm Thursday, September 11, 2008

More specific questions about Tuesday’s school bond vote and the facilities it would fund were fielded at the second and final public hearing Tuesday night at the Poplarville Lower Elementary School Auditorium.

Next Tuesday, voters in the Poplarville Special Municipal Separate School District will go to their regular voting locations to decide the fate of the approximately $16 million bond issue. Voting begins at 7 a.m. and ends at 7 p.m.

At the heart of the issue is the fate of the very building Tuesday’s hearing was held in, the Lower Elementary School, oldest of the four campuses in the Poplarville school district.

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Gary Bailey of the Bailey Group, hired by the district to review its facilities in light of the district’s projected needs, said the major recommendation would be to eventually have all the campuses at one central location. A timeline for that was given in the 20- to 30-year range.

After extensive review of sites in the district by the district‘s advisory committee, Wayne Alexander said the 258 acres site on Mississippi Highway 53 South across from the airport was selected because it was high in elevation and was near the geographic center of the district. Alexander represented the advisory committee that has been working on the project for about a year.

The site chosen is approximately three miles from the Middle School campus.

In response to a question concerning the distance from the city and the other campuses, Bailey said one goal of the new location was to ease congestion currently being faced by the schools and the city. With the size of the proposed “campus,” all drop-off and pick-up of students would be contained within the bounds of the facility, away from the main highway.

Although there has been no conversations with the Mississippi Department of Transportation, MDOT reportedly has worked to coordinate traffic issues with other school districts. One suggestion mentioned was to widen Miss. 53 at that point to three, or possibly four, lanes.

A concern raised by local resident Susan Fuller was of having all age groups located on one site, the long-term goal envisioned by the proposal. Bailey said the overall size of the facility — 258 acres — was ample space to separate the different schools yet still create the atmosphere of a unified system.

One question concerned the addition of new buildings at the high school and upper elementary and the newer middle school and the money that had been spent on them. Bailey said with the 20-30 years projected to complete the facilities of the master plan, which includes a new high school and middle school, the district would have gotten good use from its current facilities.

Alexander said there were no building plans yet for the project other than the rough renderings presented at the two public hearings and that by law any project of this type costing more than $15,000 had to be let for bids. Only after funding was secured could an architect be selected and final plans drawn for construction to start.

Bailey said when final plans were approved, actual construction of the K-2 facility was estimated to take 16 to 17 months, and hopefully be completed by August, 2010. He said after that, his firm is projecting district finances to recover with five years to be able to add an additional wing for grades three through five.

When asked what the district should do if the bond issue does not pass, Bailey said the district would have to begin to fix what it had.

He said the building at the Lower Elementary School has major building code problems: The electrical systems are outdated, there are major handicap accessibility problems, the classrooms are small, and the list goes on and on.

If the bond issue failed and the district was forced to renovate the building, Bailey says law requires that it be brought up to code standards.

“You do not have a choice in that matter …,” he said. “If you tried to fix this building today, it would cost you $8.5 million dollars to do it, and even then you would have a very nice, extremely nice Band-Aid on an old building.”