At a joint work session Tuesday afternoon, the members of the Anniston City Council and Board of Education discussed what it will take to close the middle school on the northern end of the city and relocate its operations in an upgraded facility at Cobb Elementary School, thus making the current middle school site available for commercial development.
Earlier this month, the board voted to close the Anniston Middle School and repurpose Cobb Elementary School into a junior high school for seventh and eighth graders. Under the plan for school consolidation, the sixth-graders will be sent to the district’s four remaining elementary schools once they are rezoned.
Early estimates project the renovation of Cobb Elementary School into a junior high school will cost more than $8.7 million. This includes about $4 million in renovations to the existing 45,000-square foot building and additional construction of a gym and cafeteria spaces costing more than $3.2 million.
Additionally, the district’s central office will be relocated to a building it already owns on Woodstock Avenue, for which the renovations are projected to cost $1.2 million.
Based on the $10 million project estimate, city Finance Director Danny McCullars told members of the two bodies that debt service on a bond of that size would likely cost between $550,000 and $600,000 per year for 30 or 25 years, respectively.
Board member C.K. Huguley said she was concerned that if the city committed to fund a major building project for the school system that it could affect future program funding for the school system. She asked City Council members if they could agree on a percentage of the one-cent sales tax passed in 2012 that could be devoted to education. Councilman Jay Jenkins said that a portion of it has to go toward schools, but how much is undefined in the resolution establishing the tax.
While no such percentage was discussed Tuesday, Jenkins suggested the possibility of establishing a revenue-sharing agreement from any sales tax that comes from future development at the middle school site.
“Assuming that thing fully develops, then revenue ultimately develops for the school board, too, which allows you to develop your programs,” he said.
Klinefelter said she had been thinking along that line as well. “It may be a way down the road, but it would give us some security too, knowing that we might possibly have a little more income.”
Board of Education member William Hutchings said that as the Board of Education looks to create a newer, nicer, more technology-friendly school at Cobb, he thinks the city needs to look at investing in the surrounding community, particularly the Cooper Homes. During the second half of the meeting, Housing Authority Director Willie “Sonny” McMahand and community development block grant consultant Kim Richardson talked about ways the city can do just that.
“The public housing as it exists now — what you see — won’t be the public housing we rebuild and redesign,” he said. “It won’t look like public housing.”
The housing at both the Constantine and Cooper homes are in need of rebuilding, McMahand said, and funds are limited. But he said he hopes that in a year the city’s Housing Authority will be ready to apply for major competitive grants from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development to upgrade those sites.
Councilman David Reddick and Hutchings urged action on Cooper Homes.
“We can't put that middle school across the street from the Cooper Homes and ask all the parents in Anniston to send their kids to our middle school because they’re not going to do it,” he said.
Mayor Vaughn Stewart said he didn’t expect to settle on any figures in Tuesday’s meeting but suggested the two bodies commit to a series of meetings on the issue.
The Board of Education has a special work session Thursday afternoon to discuss the middle school, including timelines and next steps for the project.
Staff writer Paige Rentz: 256-235-3564. On Twitter @PRentz_Star.