Under the plans, construction crews would build a brand new Cobb Junior High School to face Cobb Avenue, rather than renovate the existing building. Anniston Board of Education members got to see revised plans for the first time at a board retreat today at the Anniston City Meeting Center.
The changes to the plans were spurred by feedback from middle school teachers, administrators and school board members during a series of conversations and meetings last month.
Architect Seawell McKee said the difference in cost between renovating the existing school and starting from scratch — $8.73 million vs. nearly $9 million, respectively — amounts to about $265,000.
However, in connection with new construction, additional elements — including a storm shelter, a 500-seat auditorium, and a new football field and track with bleachers, field house, concession area and restrooms — push the cost for that proposal to up to $14.86 million.
The new sports facilities, McKee said, are very close to property lines that separate the school board’s property from city land.
Mayor Vaughn Stewart, who was at the presentation, said those boundaries shouldn’t be a problem.
“We’re in this together,” he said. “If y’all need more property, y’all are going to get more property as far as I’m concerned.”
McKee said proposed renderings for the new building were inspired by the original Cobb Avenue High School, incorporating elements such as similar trim and arched windows on the ground floor. He said the façade would be timeless, with a very collegiate, academic style.
Board member William Hutchings, who represents Ward 2, said the style of the building is important.
“I hope this materializes,” he said. “That’s what that community needs. They’ve always needed something like this that gives people pride.”
The new plans provide an opportunity for the school to serve as a community center, with space for performances in the auditorium and facilities for youth sports leagues and after-school programs.
“This doesn’t need to shut down at three o’clock every afternoon,” Stewart said. “It’s got to be alive and happening.”
Board member Mary Klinefelter noted she wanted to ensure that there was plenty of space for growth and to house activities such as confidential meetings or testing.
“I want to be sure those people you don’t think about have a space,” she said.
Sally Howell, executive director of the Alabama Association of School Boards, met with the board members to discuss ways to approach its search for a new superintendent to replace Joan Frazier, who will retire after the coming school year.
Board members spent two hours compiling a list of priorities for the city schools and qualities they want in a new district leader. These goals include increased academic achievement, sustained local funding and improved perception of the system. Members said they would like to see candidates with a proven track record of school turnaround, knowledge of curriculum, familiarity with the challenges of urban schools, willingness to be involved in the community and ability to make tough — and sometimes unpopular — decisions.
Howell told board members that once they begin the search, they need to give themselves about four to six months to find a superintendent.
The Board of Education also devoted a portion of its retreat to hear about Mobile’s success with strategic planning and school turnaround. Carolyn Akers, executive director of the Mobile Area Education Foundation, talked about how the city has been able to turn around its public schools through strategic planning involving the community.
“I’ve been coming here for 10 years… Ya’ll can do this,” she told the board.
“You’ve got talk fatigue here,” she said. “You’ve been talking about things here but you haven’t acted on it.”
She told board members that public engagement in the planning process was about connecting the citizenry rather than trying to sell something the foundation or the school system wanted to get done.
She said it’s important to reach out to members of the community “where they work, where they play, where they pray” and collect those voices that are usually left out.
It’s also about forming meaningful partnerships with the community, she said.
“Believers need only apply,” she said. “Quit listening to naysayers that are only going to hold you back.”
In other business, the board:
• Discussed system-wide goals for the coming school year.
• Scheduled a joint work session with the Anniston City Council to discuss plans for Cobb Junior High School for Aug. 23 at noon at the Anniston City Meeting Center.
• Set dates for joint ward meetings with members of the City Council. On Aug. 22 from 6 p.m. until 7:30 p.m., Ward 1 will meet at Anniston High School, and Ward 2 will meet at Wiggins Community Center. On Aug. 26 from 6 p.m. until 7:30 p.m., Ward 3 will meet at Project Pay at Zinn Park, and Ward 4 will meet at Norwood Hodges Community Center.
Staff writer Paige Rentz: 256-235-3564. On Twitter @PRentz_Star.