Board of Education approves renovation plans

Posted by Dan Whisenhunt November 12, 2014
School Board Chairwoman Bernadette Seals points out some of the design elements of the Decatur High Master plan. Photo by Dan Whisenhunt

School Board Chairwoman Bernadette Seals points out some of the design elements of the Decatur High Master plan. Photo by Dan Whisenhunt

Decatur’s School Board on Tuesday signed off on master plans for renovating Decatur High and Renfroe Middle schools.

The cost of completing both plans would be more than $90 million, but the projects will occur in phases. During public comments, some residents encouraged the school board to wait on the renovations. The city of Decatur is trying to annex 1.6 square miles of property, which would bring in more than 700 additional students. That’s only a fraction of the projected enrollment growth. A consultant’s report estimates that in a few short years the school’s population will swell to 7,398 students even if annexation doesn’t happen.

But what if those projections are wrong?

“The phased approach to master planning designed to take that into account,” board member Annie Caiola said.

School Board members selected option 1 A for Decatur High, adding about $700,000 in construction costs that will bring the total price to $55.8 million. When completed it will add 125,752 square feet to the high school for a total of 250,125.

Under 1 A, the high school’s kitchen would move to the other side of the campus, closer to Commerce Drive. It will also open up an opportunity for some additional green space. Parents who attended the meeting wore green in support of the high school’s community garden, which will be turned into parking under the master plan. Option 1 A also saves the high school’s iconic “saucer” entrance. attends public meetings and asks questions about issues that you care about. We need your support to continue providing news about your community without sticking it behind a pay wall. We’ve recently dropped our subscription price from $12.99 to $6 per month. Please consider becoming a subscriber.

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Chairwoman Bernadette Seals said that the saucer space will be enclosed.

“You’ll have to enter here before you go into the administrative side,” she told Decaturish. “It’s almost a containment area.”

The board selected Option 4 for Renfroe Middle, which would cost about $34.7 million to implement. When completed, the renovation will add 134,570 square feet for a total of 207,328. Several parents asked for the school board to take another look at including a performing arts space in the Renfroe design.

After approving the plans, the board of education instructed contractors to study the cost of adding a performing arts space to the middle school. They also asked for estimates geothermal building designs to make the structures more energy efficient. It is something that will likely be more expensive on the front end but will save the school system money over the long term.

School board members discussed the possibility of designing the buildings so it would be easier to add another story, if needed.

The board members said it’s time to move forward with the renovations.

“I don’t think we have an option not to do the master plan,” board member Julie Rhame said. “We need to get started since these kids are already here.”

Along those same lines, School Board members will hold a joint work session with the Decatur City Commission tonight starting at 6 pm at Decatur City Hall.

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Dan Whisenhunt is editor and publisher of

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  • COD Resident

    Do you have news on another agenda item-whether Gateway students can continue to attend CSD schools during the renovation of the complex when they have to move out?

    • Yes, I do. That was deferred while the Housing Authority and the School Board’s attorney work out an agreement to accommodate these students. We will be following up on that. Thanks for asking.

      • COD Resident

        So, it basically sounded like something would be worked out so Gateway students could continue to attend, but the details are still being ironed out? Little chance that the request will be denied altogether? Thanks for staying on top of this!

        • I got the impression the BOE is interested in doing what it can to keep these students in Decatur. They talked at some length about it and everyone was on the same page there. I think the issue boiled down to what happens if these students move far outside of the city limits and the costs of transporting them. But I think they’re looking for a way to thread the needle.

          • COD Resident

            A fair solution would be letting the students attend but not providing transportation–just like what happens with tuition or courtesy students. That’s probably where the lawyers come in–documenting that kind of agreement.

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