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Pell City school board talks possible move of 7th, 8th grade to same campus

Duran South for story 12-4-19-bc.jpg

The Pell City school system will turn Duran South Junior High into a designated pre-k facility.

PELL CITY -- A Pell City Schools shakeup is possible as talks surfaced early this week about moving seventh and eighth grade onto the same campus and creating a dedicated Pre-Kindergarten facility.

The subject was discussed during a Board of Education work session Monday night. 

“We need to do something to create more educational opportunities for eighth grade and Pre-K,” Superintendent Dr. James Martin said during the meeting.

The work session was spent discussing different possibilities for how to achieve this goal.

An initial plan would involve moving seventh and eighth grade into a new facility on the campus of Williams Intermediate School. This plan would also include the conversion of Duran South into an early learning facility. The plan comes with an estimated price tag of close to $10 million.

Another plan would involve moving fifth grade back to each elementary school. Under this plan, Williams would transition into a grade 6-8 middle school with a new competition gym. 

The new gym and added classroom space would cost around $3 million. That figure doesn’t include the necessary retrofitting at all four elementary schools, which would be needed to create appropriate science lab space. 

A plan proposed by board member Laurie Henderson would involve moving seventh grade to an expanded facility at Duran North Jr. High School. 

This plan would also allow for Duran North to continue sharing some facilities with the high school, with Duran South being converted into a designated Pre-K facility. 

Henderson’s plan does not yet have an estimated cost. It would, however, address several issues.

The system currently operates two separate junior high schools, one for seventh grade (Duran South) and the other for eighth (Duran North). Martin feels this causes a logistical struggle for parents who have multiple children in different grades. 

“Say a family has a child in ninth grade, eighth grade, seventh grade and fifth grade,” he said. “That is four car lines.” 

Consolidating grades into fewer schools would ease the burden on parents and students. 

On top of the logistical issues, Martin feels having students change schools every year during this crucial part of their development does nothing to help their education. 

Another issue is the lack of a dedicated Pre- K facility.

Currently, Pre-K classes are split between all four of Pell City’s elementary schools. A dedicated facility would centralize resources for early learning programs. Martin feels like it would also be a draw for the community, and that Duran South would be a good centralized location for such a facility.

Another major issue discussed during the meeting was a modernization of Pell City High School. The board discussed plans to construct a new media center, cafeteria and band room. Martin called special attention to the library.

“It looks like a library from when I was in school,” he said. 

This plan would also include renovations to the school’s agricultural space. 

Many of these facilities are plagued by space issues and outdated designs. Martin also mentioned that students would prefer to make the school look more like Pell City High School by further incorporating school colors. 

The renovation project would have an estimated cost of $14 million.

Martin was quick to point out that this is merely the first step in a process. Funding, for example, is one issue that must still be worked out. Martin explained that some of the necessary facility work could be done under the current budget, but not all. 

“We are still doing research,” he explained.

Martin said he is hoping to have public forums on the subject by mid to late spring. 

Taylor Mitchell, Daily Home reporter covering Pell City.