Houston County Schools expansion

A new housing development is currently being constructed near Wicksburg School. Houston County Schools has been experiencing steady growth for years and expect an influx of students this coming school year, creating a need for temporary classrooms.

The Houston County School Board approved the funding to lease five temporary classrooms – two at Wicksburg High School and three at Rehobeth Elementary.

The one-time cost to the system is $71,475, including first month’s rent, to get the classrooms in place at the two locations. They will have to pay $12,870 for the rest of the year for monthly rent. A mandatory 60-month lease will cost the system upwards of $57,000 a year.

“I believe that both these schools are very low on classrooms and there’s going to be some growth at both these school,” Superintendent David Sewell said. “It may just be the beginning, but you’ve got to have some space to have class at these schools while we try to get funding to build more permanent classrooms.”

Recent slight upticks in enrollment numbers at Wicksburg and nearby residential construction have been cause for concern in recent months.

Over the last 15 years, Wicksburg’s enrollment has increased by 17% from 834 students, but only 2% since 2013 with an average daily membership of 974 students at the beginning of the 2018-2019 school year, according to data from the Alabama State Department of Education.

Likewise, there has been an increase in residential construction in the Rehobeth and Taylor area as well.

Rehobeth Elementary started out with a population of 892 students in 2003, and has grown by 23% as of October 2018. The adjacent Rehobeth middle school and elementary school campuses have long outgrown their shared lunchroom, which recently prompted the school board to approve a new, separate $3 million lunchroom for the middle school.

Originally, the system was planning on purchasing temporary classrooms at close to $70,000 each, but opted to rent them instead.

“The reason we had to do that is for the time crunch, number one, and we didn’t have time for me to put my feelers out and because it’s a lease and we’re not purchasing it or for the construction of the buildings, it falls under the bid law,” Chief Financial Officer Kerry Bedsole said.

With school starting back at the beginning of August, the temporary classrooms will not be ready for incoming students.

It is unclear if the terms of the lease include a buy-out option should the system decide to build permanent classrooms before the end of five years.

Other expansion projects remain on Houston County School’s five-year capital improvement plan among a slew of deferred maintenance projects.

The system projects $2.5 million is needed to build a new classroom building at the shared Rehobeth middle and elementary school campus. However, remodeling an existing vocational building into three more classrooms and restrooms could be a quicker, cost-effective alternative at an anticipated cost of $69,000.

At a meeting with the Houston County Board Commission meeting in February, Superintendent David Sewell made the case for an additional $10 million next year, in part to help fund many expansion projects. The commission will likely finalize its budget in September.

The Houston County Board of Education will next meet on July 25 at 5 p.m. in the boardroom at central office.

Other action items:

>>Approve At-Risk and High Hopes Grants in the amount of $99,000.

>>Approved a contract with SpectraCare Health Systems, Inc. for the maximum monthly amount of $14,139 for school counselors.

>>Approved Tyco Tree Experts to remove stumps and trees along the fence row at HCHS football fields as a result of the tornado damage in the amount of $1,000

>>Approved lowest bid of $229,430.35 with Bedsole Milk for 2019-2020 school year.

>>Approved May 2019 Financial Statement with 3.94 months of operating reserves.

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