Mayor Mark Saliba, Dothan city commissioners, school board members, and Central Office officials took a first look at the work-in-progress at the new Dothan Early Education Center and at the new Dothan High campus.
Jeff Prine, project manager for the Dothan City School restructuring effort, assured those in attendance the work was going forward on time and under budget, quashing rumors that construction could delay the school start date of Aug. 20.
“The good news is everything is tracking,” Prine said. “We’re in the finishing phase right now.”
Prine took the group of about 20 through the old Honeysuckle Middle School building, pointing out many changes being made.
“Obviously this building is being converted into an early education center,” he said. “The work we’ve done mostly here is taking these spaces that were for middle-schoolers and design them for the small kids, and also make sure we had the configurations around the state standards and everything there.”
Part of the necessary renovations included gutting bathrooms outside of the pods, designed for older children, and placing small restrooms adjacent to classrooms.
In much of the building and classrooms, ceiling tiles and light fixtures were missing or damaged, but drywall and frames had been installed.
A secure vestibule, complete with bullet-resistance dry wall, is in the latter stages of construction at the education center’s new entrance, which will later be easily recognizable with colorful signage.
Playground equipment from other schools with state-funded First Class programs have been moved to the new location, along with brand-new equipment, creating a $300,000 play area outside on newly laid mulch.
DCS administration and its data center also have some office and storage space carved out, but priority is being placed on improvements to the preschool space, which must be ready by the start of the school year.
“I’m excited to see the progress on the pre-K center and the thought that went into it for the safety and security of our children,” school board chairman Mike Schmitz said. “I think it’s going to be a world-class facility for these kids.”
The tour group to a look at the new Dothan High Campus next.
“At the high school, it’s about capacity, breaking up some of the larger areas and re-configuring them to get more classroom spaces over there,” Prine said.
Some of the lights had already been replaced with new LED lighting by Trane, the company DCS contracted for energy-saving services. In one of the LED-lit rooms, the attendants gathered to hear about the ongoing projects taking place at Dothan High. Superintendent Phyllis Edwards used the time to address the audience, saying that $15 million is not enough to match the needs of the long-neglected facilities.
“All the time, you think, public schools – you just need money, just need money,” Superintendent Phyllis Edwards said to the crowd. “No, we’re trying to fix the environment, because it does matter. What you’re saying to kids without saying it in terms of where they’re going to school, what it looks like and what the grounds look like – if we don’t care about it, they’re not going to care about it. And it does say whether you care about them or not.”
She added that she would like to see the Dothan community support and lift up the children in the public education system.
“We are partners,” Mark Saliba said in response. “We’re all very, very excited. We appreciate what the city school board is doing and I think when it’s all said and done, everyone is going to be tickled and it’s going to be a new feeling and a new start for our city school system, so I celebrate and applaud y’all.”
The old Northview gym, where the tour effectively ended, was painted and floors were painted and refinished with the new DHS logo and colors.
Commissioners and board members, many who had graduated from Dothan High and Northview, gathered on the newly refinished wooden floors to reminisce about their teenage years at both schools.
School board member Brett Strickland jokingly asked where he could get his old jersey that used to hang in the Northview gym.
Commissioner and Dothan High basketball coach Janesky Fleming said he could probably find it and purchase it, along with other Northview memorabilia at a “yard sale” of sorts on Aug. 3 at the convocation center on Dothan High’s campus. Proceeds will go toward the new athletic program.
The tour of Dothan Preparatory Academy had to be delayed two weeks due to heavy construction inside the building. Prine said that some unforeseen soil conditions while building a drainage ditch and a flooded courtyard have caused some problems, but that progress was still ongoing.
“Their biggest enemy is the weather,” he said of Wiregrass Construction. Hopefully, he said, in two weeks the curb and gutter will be complete and the construction company will be able to begin laying asphalt for the new roadway.
On July 24, a representative from the Alabama Building Commission will be on site at all campuses to complete its inspection.
Still, there are other projects slated that will not be completed by opening day.
LED refitting and HVAC improvements are in its early stages. DCS will also be presenting two more bid packages soon for elevators to be constructed at Dothan Prep, Girard Elementary, and Carver and for the complete gutting of Davis Gym at Dothan Prep, which will be transformed for classroom space.
“It’s still a drop in the bucket, so we still have a lot to do but this will get the buildings operational and aligned with the reconfiguration with Dr. Edwards and her team are putting together for that,” Prine said.
Additionally, all roofs will be replaced or repaired by July of next year.
Commissioners and board members will be able to reconvene at Dothan Preparatory Academy on July 26 for another first-look opportunity.