By Emily Williams
After spending more than a year gathering data, consulting with the public and inspecting its facilities, Homewood City Schools gave its first official presentation of a Capital Improvement Plan on Oct. 26 in Homewood Middle School’s auditorium.
The setting of the meeting is just one space that will be touched by a systemwide series of renovations, additions and upgrades designed to make the schools more functional for their growing student populations.
The entire project will be funded by the $55 million dollars the school acquired from a $110 million bond issue made to improve city schools and parks.
Superintendent Bill Cleveland noted that those funds were gifted by the city and community; therefore, it was the board’s mission to make sure the funds were used to improve all of the schools in the system.
“You’ve got to have your ducks in a row when you’re dealing with five schools, because that’s a lot of money. But when you’re talking about five schools, it goes quick,” Cleveland said.
To properly serve the needs of the system, Cleveland said, the approach to figuring out what needed to be fixed or changed was to take a good look at just about everything housed in each school.
First and foremost, he noted, it was essential to hear from not only the community, but faculty, staff and students.
“What the community says is the number one thing that is important for them matched perfectly with what the faculty and staff said was most important for them,” Cleveland said, which was a need for either more space for more teachers or smaller class sizes.
“The fact that we are all aligned on the same thing was just another blessing that we don’t take for granted,” he said.
A demographic study demonstrated that, while there is a little bit of growth projected in the system’s student population overall, there is a significantly larger population of students in grades three through six, with each grade having between 340 and 360 students.
Cleveland noted that those numbers made one of their main goals finding a short-term solution to preparing the middle school for the larger classes, while also preparing a long-term plan for the high school, which eventually will cater to upwards of 1,400 students.
Homewood High Plan
Homewood High School will see the most work, with a new addition flanking the back of the school near the practice fields. The space will include a new fine arts pavilion with a new choral room, a new dance studio and a new Bailey Theatre.
The existing theater will become an expansion for the cafeteria, which also will get a newly renovated and updated kitchen.
A new entrance will be included in the center of the addition, with seven new classroom spaces and a media center added.
According to Cleveland, the concept of a media center rather than a traditional library was the product of the high school’s librarian, Jana Watts, and a group of students. The project is an example of just one of the ways the board hopes to insert the opinions of the students into the projects as they move forward.
On the far end of the addition will be more space for athletics, including a new weight training room, lockers, a team room and offices. There is also an opportunity to create a concourse walkway from the athletic addition to the athletic fields, creating a safe way for players to cross over carpool traffic and a “walk of champions” to boost the players’ morale.
Homewood Middle Plans
At Homewood Middle School, an addition will be created next to the gym for use as a multipurpose space for wrestling, cheer and other sport activities. The existing wrestling space will then be renovated into a choral room, and the existing choral room will become expanded space for the band.
To create six new classroom spaces, the plan includes renovating three oversized teacher workrooms, each of which will include two counselor’s offices.
At the elementary schools, there will be general updates to the interiors and exteriors of the buildings. Edgewood and Shades Cahaba Elementary will get expanded dining areas and electrical updates.
Edgewood will gain four classrooms and more restrooms, and Shades Cahaba will repurpose its underutilized auditorium to create three new classrooms.
At all five schools, the plan includes the addition of secure vestibules at the entrance of each facility.
According to Greg Ellis of HPM, the project management company working with the school system on the project, secure vestibules are becoming a standard at the nation’s schools. Instead of entering and exiting the building through one door, visitors will be buzzed into an administrative space before being buzzed into the main facility through another door.
Ellis noted that HPM expects to have the entire project completed by August 2019.
Farther Down the Road
Cleveland said that, in his eyes, there is a phase two to the plan that will be needed in the next 13 to 20 years. Shades Cahaba and Edgewood will celebrate their 100th anniversaries in a little more than a decade and, while Shades Cahaba’s structure can be renovated, Edgewood will need to be replaced.
Cleveland noted that the property on Valley Avenue that recently was purchased will be used in the future to house Edgewood students while a new facility is built on the school’s existing site.
“We do plan on cleaning that area up,” he said. “We do plan on, through school funds, putting back that two-meter track for the middle school, closer to the middle school on that property.”
He noted that there is also “a big push” to use some of the other portions of the property as trails for the schools’ cross-country teams and the community.