By Mary Ellen Snell
It is no secret that Homewood has grown steadily during the past 10 years, and the growth of young families with children means the city urgently needs a comprehensive plan to expand all of its schools and build a new high school, possibly in West Homewood.
According to city officials, an influx of young families into the city has increased school enrollment and demand for Homewood Parks and Recreation sports facilities.
At a recent community meeting hosted at Homewood High School and attended by 300 residents, Homewood City School Superintendent Dr. Bill Cleveland outlined 30 percent Homewood student growth since 2000 and presented preliminary proposals to accommodate future student growth.
Cleveland presented the results of a recently completed land use study by BL Harbert that evaluated the possibility of each of the Homewood schools’ accommodating student growth.
The three elementary schools – Edgewood Elementary, Shades Cahaba Elementary and Hall-Kent Elementary – can be expanded at their current locations at an estimated cost of $29.4 million, according to the study.
There is enough land at the site of Homewood Middle School, which was relocated in 2005, to allow for the expansion of a fifth-grade wing at an estimated cost of almost $13.7 million.
However, the study showed that expansion of the Homewood High School, built in 1973 to accommodate 1,200 students, would be difficult because part of the property is in a flood zone.
Officials at the meeting discussed plans that would move Homewood High School to be near West Homewood Park and expand athletic facilities around the park. The city recently bought 15 acres off West Oxmoor Road for $4.25 million.
Cleveland said moving the High School to that location could provide important benefits to Homewood schools and the parks by sharing resources in West Homewood. If a plan to expand parks also plays out, the new location would position the high school near the stadium, three multi-purpose fields and five sports fields
Creating a central campus would increase student proximity to athletic fields, reducing travel back and forth between facilities, and provide more parking, which has been restricted at the high school campus this year, Cleveland said.
Parks and Recreation Director Berkley Squires also during the meeting said use of sports facilities in West Homewood has grown by 30 percent since 2009, with an additional 1,000 children using the facilities.
Chris Meeks, chairman of the city’s Park Board, said an 18-month study indicates that the Parks and Recreation Department must address the need for more facilities soon or limit registration for sports teams.
Included in the preliminary planning is an idea to move the pool from West Homewood Park and establish a new aquatic center and gym in an area around the current Senior Center at Patriot Park.
Other needs for the parks include updating and expanding maintenance and storage facilities and adding parking, bathrooms and concession areas.
There were no cost estimates presented for the preliminary plans to expand the park properties.
At the end of the 1½-hour presentation, some residents expressed concern that moving the high school to West Homewood would place it farther from central neighborhoods and closer to the Industrial area.
Other residents were concerned about not having the public involved in drafting of the plans and asked that residents be including in a long-range strategic plan.
Cleveland said the school board would include public comments in its plans for the schools.
Funding also was a key question. City Council President Bruce Limbaugh said the city likely would eventually need to approve a 1 percent increase in sales tax to fund the needs for Homewood schools and parks, upping the city sales tax to 10 percent, which is in line with some other area municipalities.
Mayor Scott McBrayer said Homewood’s average age has been reduced over a 10-year period from 60 years to 29.2 years, forcing a need for the city to invest in schools and parks.
He told residents at the meeting that Homewood’s growth was a “good problem to have” and said he wanted to “go as hard and fast as we can” to pursue that growth.