Newspaper article The Tuscaloosa News

Strategic Plan's Failure Won't Stop New Middle School Preparations

Newspaper article The Tuscaloosa News

Strategic Plan's Failure Won't Stop New Middle School Preparations

Article excerpt

The superintendent of Tuscaloosa City Schools said Monday he's optimistic that preparation to build a new middle school in the Northridge zone can move forward despite the school board's failure to pass his restructuring plan.

According to the $168.9 million-integrated curriculum, facilities and demographic strategic plan, construction of the new north middle school is scheduled to be completed by July 2, 2018. The 900- capacity school would serve Rock Quarry Middle School students, University Place Middle students who live north of 15th Street and some Eastwood Middle students.

Jeff Johnson, executive director of facilities for the city schools, said the school would be built near the entrance of The Oaks neighborhood.

"It's good land and a good location that's donated land, and it's centered for all the neighborhoods in that area," Johnson said. "The $30.8-million construction cost would pay for be site work, fixtures, furniture and equipment, athletic fields, the building and parking lots."

But the superintendent's first recommendation for the strategic plan failed to pass the school board in a 4-4 vote Oct. 20.

At an Oct. 23 retreat, the board had a lengthy discussion about their issues with the plan.

The plan is not on today's school board meeting agenda, and McKendrick said more discussion is needed before it is placed back on the agenda for another board vote.

He hopes to recommend the plan to the board again by the end of the month.

Last year, the 36-acre tract of land where the new middle school would be built stirred up some controversy with board members.

In December 2012, Gov. Robert Bentley, the Alabama Department of Mental Health, the Tuscaloosa County Park and Recreation Authority, and Ol' Colony Golf Complex's board renegotiated a lease for the 600- acre tract of land near Sokol Park where the golf course was built. The lease agreement is between PARA and the Department of Mental Health dates back to Ol' Colony's origins in the late 1990s.

In January 2014, Ol' Colony Board Chairman Jerry Plott said the deal eliminated an annual $150,000 payment to the Department of Mental Health that was scheduled to increase in years to come. Part of the original agreement required PARA to pay $150,000 annually to lease the entire tract for 15 years. After that, a percentage of Ol' Colony's revenues would be added to that base payment until the total payment to Mental Health had risen to $450,000 by the final year of the lease in 2079. However, Ol' Colony's revenues weren't as high as anticipated and it operated with an annual deficit ranging between $417,232 and $42,360 from fiscal 2003 to fiscal 2012.

Because the Tuscaloosa city and county governments are the primary funding sources for PARA, local tax dollars were subsidizing the golf course's operations. To eliminate the need for the annual subsidy, PARA and Ol' Colony approached the Department of Mental Health and Bentley about returning 225 acres of the 600-acre tract to the department in exchange for dropping the need for the annual lease payment. …

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