School upgrades planned

Published 10:02 pm Friday, December 21, 2012

The Escambia County School Board authorized a plan Thursday to put $18 million to work on capital projects throughout the county.

One part of the plans are for renovations that include an estimated $800,000 project that will replace and upgrade the heating and cooling system at Escambia County High School in Atmore.

“We have some major issues with the heating and cooling system there,” Little said. “We have already begun the initial states with the architect there and will be ready to start as soon as school ends in May 2013.”

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Little said he hoped the renovation project would remain near the $800,000 estimate but could reach as much as $1 million.

“We are also looking at doing some renovations to the auditorium at ECHS,” Little said. “We are still working on plans for that project.”

Little also said plans are on the table for HVAC renovations at Rachel Patterson Elementary in Atmore with a nearly $2 million estimate on costs for the project.

“We are hoping to begin on the Rachel Patterson Elementary project and renovations by the summer of 2014,” Little said. “This is all part of our five year plan in place for capital improvements in the county system.”

Little said other capital projects in the five year plan include renovations of restroom renovations at Flomaton High School’s football field as well as renovations of the FHS auditorium and Flomaton Elementary School.

“We will be looking at what needs to be done at Pollard-McCall during this five-year plan,” Little said. “And we will also be considering the major needs at A.C. Moore Elementary in Atmore as well.”

Although the improvements will be managed over the course of the plan, Little said plans can change from time to time.

“We certainly can’t do all of these projects at one time,” Little said. “We have to work this five-year plan that was approved by our board. So, from January 2013 through January 2018, but things could see some adjustments.”

Also during Thursday’s meeting the members of the Escambia County School Board gave authorization for Little to form a contract with the investment company and architects to secure funds and plans for the new school construction. McKee and Associates will be working with the board and school staff to create a plan for the construction.

The new construction will begin on the south end (old football field area) of the existing campus of W.S. Neal High School in East Brewton.

“I will be working with our investment company to borrow $18 million in a bond issue for the plans for our schools, which includes a new W.S. Neal High School,” Little said. “Because of the work of our past superintendents Mr. Powell, Mr. (William) Hines, Mrs. (Julie) Madden and our school boards, this district is on sound financial ground. Because of that we will be able to do major capital projects — not just for W.S. Neal, but for the entire county.”

W.S. Neal High School Principal Patricia Fraizer said the plans for a new school facility have been brought this far by work from many people who had the school at heart.

“I am appreciative with the board’s decision to transform a vision for a new school into reality,” Frazier said. “Former superintendent, Mr. Hines and the board members that worked with him, including former members, Chuck Brooks and Donnie Crutchfield, had many conversations concerning a new Neal school. The previous board members did an outstanding job in overseeing the county’s finances during many difficult years of proration. I am grateful for their stewardship which has helped prepare the way for the current board members to initiate this move.”

Frazier said Little’s work and the detailed attention by current board members is making the new facility “a dream come true” for the community.

“Mr. Little has been very instrumental in researching the intricacies of building a new school,” Frazier said. “The current board members carefully analyzed the data presented by Mr. Little, and compared it to the needs of Neal High School and made a very timely decision to move forward. Building a new high school is truly a dream come true for the students, staff, and community members. I couldn’t be any happier with their decision, and I am thankful to the board for their leadership and support.”

Little said board members and school personnel would begin visiting school sites next month to come up with a wish list for the planned construction.

“The board is going to visit some school sites comparable to what we want to do,” Little said. “We will start those visits as early as Jan. 3 and got to as many sites as necessary to find what we need to find. The architect will also be with us on those visits and from what we learn and see, we will work together to develop a formal plan for the new school.”

Little said preliminary sketches for the planned construction have already been prepared by McKee’s staff, but formal blue prints will be developed with input from a variety of sources.

“We will be collaborating on details for a new school,” Little said. “We will be taking comments from the community as well as the staff of the school. We want this to be a facility the community can be proud to have.”

Little said groundbreaking could begin as early as Summer 2013 with construction taking between 18 and 24 months to complete.

“We are hoping to be able to move in by Aug. 1, 2015 at the latest,” Little said. “I wouldn’t mind getting to move in sooner, but we’ll see how things go.”

The Escambia County School System receives $1.2 million in funds for capital improvements each year, Little said. The loan planned to help finance the capital projects on the board will be done at current rates based on the system’s credit rating.

“This will put our debt service for the county at about $1.2 million per year over a 30 year period,” Little said. “We can easily swing that because of our $11.9 million in reserve funding. These improvements in the five-year plan won’t have any effect on anyone’s taxes. We’re happy to be in a position to move forward with these projects.”