The Calhoun County Board of Education on Thursday agreed to spend more on a new school in Alexandria in order to add a suite of special education rooms to its design.

In adding the wing, the board’s members increased the cost of a new Alexandria Middle School by an estimated $1.4 million. The addition, more than 7,000 square feet, will have two large classrooms and two labs — one featuring tools to teach everyday skills, such as a washer and dryer, the other a computer lab where students will get job-oriented instruction.

The addition’s most “amazing” component, according to Charlene Hill, who directs the system’s special education programs, will be a sensory room.

The space will be “really fantastic for those autistic students who need a place to retreat and regroup,” Hill said by phone after the board’s meeting. It has special features, she said, such as the ability to vary the level of light in the room, and a ball pit.

Work on the new wing will happen at the same time construction continues on the $15 million school, according to Superintendent Joe Dyar.

Board members also got a look back at the 2016 fiscal year in their last meeting before the start of the next calendar year.

Chief schools financial officer Tina Parris told board members that the system paid off a $1 million loan taken out in 2009 to purchase buses. Other debts remain: $2 million taken out in 2010 for roofing and air conditioning repair, and more than $50 million taken out this year for, among other things, construction of the new middle school and the purchase of new buses.

The system saw more tax revenue taken in, Parris said, and spent slightly less than projected in its budget.

“So you’d say we’re pretty financially solid, right?” board vice chairman Dale Harbin asked Parris. “Not like it read in the paper?”

“Yep,” Parris said. Harbin referred to comments made by board member Tobi Burt, who said at the body’s last meeting that the system’s budget for the next fiscal year shows a $3.8 million deficit.

Parris, though, has said that any deficit likely won’t be as severe as her conservative budgeting — which accounts for the $50 million loan’s influx, and spending on several large construction projects — may show.

“You may be planning to spend more than you’re bringing in that particular year, which may mean dipping into reserves,” she said. “Ordinarily, we don’t, in the end.”

For example, Parris in 2015 budgeted for a $3 million deficit at the end of the fiscal year just ended. That deficit never showed, and the system’s reserve actually grew $46,607, according to information Parris presented Thursday night.

In other business

In other business, the board:

— Recognized a variety of teachers and student groups, including Walter Wellborn High School’s junior high football team, which has lost only one game in the last three years, and Alexandria High School’s volleyball team, runners-up in this year’s state championship.

— Heard public comment from Keisha Carter, parent to twin girls in 10th grade at Walter Wellborn High School. Carter’s daughters were kicked from the cheerleading squad in September, she said, after they missed one practice and a fundraising event. Carter asked that the board pay back $1,200 of the $2,000 she put toward her daughters’ involvement. Chairman David Gilmore, who, along with Harbin, was re-elected Thursday to his board officer position, thanked Carter for her comments. The board took no action on the issue.

— Agreed to hold for one year a support position for one board employee who requested such. Dyar characterized the request as “abnormal” — the employee asked that her job be held while she finishes school to become a teacher — but said he decided to bring it before the board because he considers her a “first-class employee.” After some discussion about who would fill the employee’s job while she completes her schooling, board members agreed to hold her position.

 

Staff writer Zach Tyler: 256-235-3564. On Twitter @ZTyler_Star.