School officials are still trying to secure the bulk of the funding for the project, but they have already selected an architect to do the work and plan to have the school completed within two years. The new school will sit adjacent to Jacksonville High School, near Walmart, and near the site of the city’s future public safety complex.
“We have made the decision, and now we’re going to move forward and do the very best job that we can,” said Superintendent Jon Paul Campbell. “It’s a tremendous responsibility that we have.”
The board’s decision Tuesday comes after months of discussion in the community about the pros and cons of refurbishing or moving Kitty Stone Elementary school. At the meeting, several concerned city residents told board members they prefer to rebuild or refurbish Kitty Stone Elementary School at its current location instead of moving the school to a new site. While board members said they considered the opinions of those who opposed their decision, they ultimately decided to build the new elementary school along George Douthit Drive because they believe it will be best for the students.
“What I really felt I needed to remind myself to do as a board member is to take emotion out of the equation, and to step back and make sure I’m making my decision based on the best interest of the students,” Board President Mike Poe said. “Each time I did that, it led me to the decision that we ended up making here tonight.”
During the meeting, board members discussed several factors weighing on their decision. Board member Emily Sims, who teaches in JSU's College of Education, said that students need a modern school designed for the 21st century. Kelly Pearce voiced concern over the safety of students who would be placed in portable classrooms during a renovation at the current campus.
Steve Smith said the current campus has outdated infrastructure, and that students are unsafe because they have to walk outside to get from one building to another. David Glass said Jacksonville's elementary school should be as good as what is available in other communities.
"When I visited other schools, it became clear to me that Kitty Stone Elementary needed to be addressed," Glass said.
Some people who oppose the decision to move the school have said the current campus would deteriorate once students move away from it, but board members said they are committed to finding a new use for the property. On Tuesday they also voted to participate on a joint committee made up of school, city, and Jacksonville State University officials to help find a new use for the buildings that currently house Kitty Stone. Some proposed future uses for the current Kitty Stone campus include using the site for a future middle school, for city offices or as a possible training facility for the JSU College of Education.
Glass and other board members said they are confident that the community will find another use for the current Kitty Stone campus and that the site will not fall into disrepair.
"I believe in my heart that there is a strong commitment between JSU, the Jacksonville School Board, and the city to do something with this property," Glass said. "This property is not going to be abandoned."
Although the Jacksonville school board’s meetings typically draw only a few public attendees, Tuesday’s meeting attracted a crowd of more than 30.
Of those attending, about a dozen addressed the board over the course of an hour, voicing concerns related to the school move. Two spoke in favor of the relocation, but most asked board members to either rebuild or extensively renovate Kitty Stone Elementary School at its current location.
“You cannot put a price on the benefit of having a sense of community and what that does for your community development,” said Paul Hathaway, who teaches public administration at Jacksonville State University and has children in the city’s school system. “Every time you move public buildings away from the center of the community, the community dies or severely declines.”
Third-grade teacher Lesley Bean told the board before its vote that she thought Kitty Stone needed a new location.
“I love our location, but we need a new school,” Bean said. “I don’t know that I would want my child on that campus right now, not in third grade.”
Bean said the third-grade classrooms at Kitty Stone are small, and her pupils have to go outside to get to other parts of the campus, including the bathrooms.
A few attendees in the audience also urged the city’s residents to remain united after the vote and to support the schools, even if they disagreed with the board's decision. Following the board’s decision, Hathaway said he thinks it’s important for people in the city to continue working together.
“I think it was a fair process,” he said. “My concern, I guess, is that the community is going to divide over this issue and that’s going to hurt.”
Staff writer Laura Gaddy: 256-235-3544. On Twitter @LGaddy_Star.