Walter T. McKee of McKee and Associates Architecture and Interior Design spoke at a town hall meeting hosted by the Jacksonville Board of Education to discuss a comparative review of the two potential sites for a grade school.
“It’s our opinion that the property across the street is the best location for the new school,” McKee said, speaking to a crowd of about 50.
The second of the two sites was the campus of Kitty Stone Elementary, where some residents have said they’d prefer to see a school that combines existing structures with new construction. McKee instead recommended using the Kitty Stone campus as the site of a new middle school in the future, through either new construction or renovation.
McKee said a new elementary school would have to encompass about 85,000 square feet to accommodate approximately 800 students. He added that the school campus would need at least 16 acres to have enough space for the building, playgrounds, parking and an area for students to be picked up and dropped off each day.
The current Kitty Stone Elementary School campus is built on about 15 acres of land owned by Jacksonville State University, McKee said. The school facilities take up about 11 acres; administrative offices, a steep embankment, and an old university building in poor condition occupy the remaining space.
By contrast, the recommended site off of George Douthit Drive, in the southern part of the city across from the high school, is a 65-acre plot of city-owned land, McKee said.
Jacksonville Board of Education President Mike Poe said he would use elements of McKee’s report to help him make a decision on the matter. Poe and the other board members expect to vote on the issue at the board’s Jan. 21 meeting, he said.
Poe said the board will also evaluate safety concerns, public sentiment and cost when making a decision about where the new elementary school should be built.
“I do like the concept, so far, of repurposing Kitty Stone as a middle school,” Poe said. “It also serves the long-term desire of this community to have a middle school.”
The board had at one time discussed the possibility of building a new elementary and middle school, but it has since dropped plans to build the middle school.
"There is not enough money in the budget to do both projects simultaneously," Superintendent Jon Paul Campbell said.
The superintendent added that the board would reconsider building a middle school when money for the project is available. Poe said at the meeting that the school system should try to secure the funding for the project in five years.
Jacksonville school students attend Kitty Stone Elementary School through the sixth grade, and move up to the high school in the seventh grade. A middle school that served students in grades six through eight would need to be large enough to serve 400 students, McKee said.
“It’s a lot more adaptable to handle 400 students than 800 students,” McKee said.
The architect’s findings did little to sway the opinions of the residents at the meeting who would like to see Kitty Stone Elementary rebuilt in place. Of about a dozen attendees who spoke at the meeting, two, both teachers, wanted to move the elementary school to the George Douthit Drive location.
The rest of the attendees who spoke said they think the school board should find a way to keep the elementary school where it is.
“I think it was a bad idea to move the high school out here, and I think it is a bad idea to move the elementary school out here,” said Rena Comisac, a proponent of keeping the elementary school in the heart of town.
Staff writer Laura Gaddy: 256-235-3544. On Twitter @LGaddy_Star.