By CARL SMITH
Starkville School District officials began preliminary discussions Tuesday on future building needs and where the district now stands following completion of its last bond issue.
Even though the district recently completed the past bond issue, physical needs are still apparent in many school facilities, and the school system needs to prepare itself for potential increases to the student body, SSD Superintendent Lewis Holloway said Tuesday. School board members discussed the idea of pooling future monies for a new, centralized campus to meet any growth needs during last week’s work session, but no official action was taken during the preliminary discussions.
These discussions are part of an overall long-term strategic planning effort by the district, which will also focus on finances, classroom size, educational delivery and technology availability. On Tuesday, Holloway said the district will reach out to community stakeholders and form a group which will help the district communicate with and take ideas from the public as strategic plans are formed. He said he is hopeful the first of four to six meetings with stakeholders will begin by the end of November and wrap up in early May. Before the meetings can be held, the district must identify a list of stakeholders willing to participate.
“We need a total of 30-35 stakeholders to have the buy-in we need,” Holloway said at the school board’s work session Tuesday. “We’ll talk about buildings, technology, textbooks and our five-year financial analysis. That will be the first meeting to share who we are as a district.”
Using MGT’s BASYS facility assessment instrument, Holloway presented a guide outlining each school facility’s current condition — ranging from the physical condition of the building to education sustainability, technology readiness and site condition of each location — to the school board during the meeting.
Through weighted scores from each measurement, the assessment rated each facility’s combined score on a 100-point scale. Of the 10 sites scored, three facilities — Ward-Stewart Elementary School, Henderson Elementary School and Starkville High School — each scored 80 or above on their overall tallies while three other facilities — the Greensboro Center, Emerson Family Resource Center and Overstreet School — scored in the 60s.
When scored for physical conditions specifically, a majority of district facilities earned fair designations, while Ward Stewart and Henderson were given “good” ratings, the highest in the district. Although Overstreet and the Greensboro Center earned the district’s lowest grades, they both are only a single point from being downgraded to “unsatisfactory.”
According to the assessment, any “unsatisfactory” buildings and a majority of its systems “should be considered for replacement.” Emerson and the Armstrong Middle School Gymnasium both received “fair” evaluations, but a 1-point move could place both in the “poor” category.
“”As a building approaches 60, we have to ask if this is a building we want to invest in … from a financial viewpoint,” Holloway said Tuesday.
As for education sustainability, six facilities received “good” designations — each of those scored above 80 points — while Millsaps Career and Technology Center’s 90 score earned it a “like new” rating. The Greensboro Center and Emerson again scored the lowest — both earned fair designations. This assessment scored existing classroom spaces, building equipment, storage and the sustainability of pedestrian and vehicular circulation.
The district’s highest scores came from its technological readiness assessment. All nine facilities measured by this standard received 90 ratings, which give the district a “good” designation. Holloway said one of the few needs in this category includes total Wi-Fi access.
SSD also scored well in its site condition assessment, which analyzed capital needs including roads, walkways, parking lots and playgrounds. Of the nine facilities analyzed, three earned “like new” ratings, while four were designated “good” and two were said to be “fair.”
“Looking at how many students each facility serves is a huge priority,” Holloway said Friday. “Overstreet sees only about 100 kids; same thing with the district offices (Greensboro Center) and Emerson. Although we see students (at the Greensboro Center) using the auditorium and through testing, it’s hard to invest in buildings that do not serve many students.”
Future enrollment projections will also shape how the district attends to its facilities’ needs. Currently, Holloway says the district needs six more classroom spaces at Sudduth to accommodate growth in two years. Predicting long-term needs, however, can be difficult.
Richard Hilton, OCH Regional Medical Center CEO, said approximate in-county birth figures declined slightly over the past five years, a slide which coincided with an overall decline in state figures. From 2009 to 2010, the state recorded a 6.9 percent drop in recorded births, while OCH recorded a 4.6 percent decline. Although overall birth rates are down for the state, Hilton said the hospital projects a rise in local births in the coming fiscal year.
County birth rates are not an exact way to measure possible enrollment numbers since there is no guarantee any child will enroll in the city school district.
After Holloway presented the board with a county birth rate study conducted by the Mississippi Department of Health, discussion from maintenance and upkeep of existing buildings turned to the possibility of building a new campus to meet future growth. Board members agreed that many school locations are in areas that are not advantageous to physical expansion.
“We are landlocked in several places. It’s very nice that our student population appears to be climbing, but we have to figure out what to do with that number,” school board member Jenny Turner said Thursday. “We need to evaluate where we are as a district, look at (current buildings) again and look at costs, specifically how much it would cost to improve aging facilities versus building new schools. It’s nice to think about having new buildings, but this is going to be a cost-driven process.”
When board member Eddie Myles asked Holloway if the school district could pool future monies and build a large, central campus, Holloway said yes, but he favors smaller schools that afford more student involvement.
“The smaller the school, the more opportunity for students. Nine hundred to 1,000 (students) is a good number. You have more kids participating throughout campus,” Holloway said during the work session. “At big high schools, average students don’t get a chance (with extracurricular programs).”
“I don’t think parents want (schools) bigger. If you talk to parents, I don’t think they want Sudduth or Henderson Ward-Stewart any bigger in terms of population,” Turner added during Thursday’s discussion. “If we can make (future campuses) more strategically positioned, I think that’s what parents will want.”