By Emily Williams
More than a year after residents of Mountain Brook voted in favor of a 10-mill tax increase, Mountain Brook City Schools is starting to see the result.
The tax hike was projected to raise an additional $6 million a year for the school system’s budget.
In October, the school system began receiving those funds and already has put them to work, announcing plans for a long-term project of major capital improvements at each of its six schools.
According to Mountain Brook Board of Education officials, the plan is projected to include 16 to 20 years of facility improvements that will cost an estimated $74 million.
“We’re eager to embark on this series of projects and sincerely appreciate our community’s support,” school Superintendent Dicky Barlow said. “The planned work meets each school’s needs that were identified during the facilities audit and will enable our district to continue providing students with a high-quality education.”
In a school board meeting Oct. 27, architects overseeing projects at each of the schools presented schematic designs, which were approved by the board.
In addition, board members gave project underwriters Raymond James and Stifle approval to move forward in securing $74 million in bond issues to fund the projects.
“The board recognizes that now is the time to take advantage of historic low interest rates as we enter into the bond market,” Barlow said. “Securing such rates will allow us to keep our debt service low and maximize these projects.”
Study Sparked Push for Upgrades
All six of Mountain Brook’s schools are at least 50 years old.
A 2018 audit conducted by an architecture firm stated that the district needed to make capital improvements
that would cost $31 million to $87 million.
According to school officials, this led the system to form a 28-member community task force. The group
assessed the district’s spending and made recommendations for how the school system might finance the updates.
That led to the board and council deciding to increase the city’s ad valorem tax rate by $10 million, which increased the school system’s annual revenue by $6 million. Residents voted in favor of the increase in 2019.
Since that time, school system officials have been preparing for construction.
The school board started the process by hiring Brasfield & Gorrie General Contractors in December 2019 to manage construction.
The Bradfield & Gorrie team has since helped school system officials hire an architecture firm for each project, create a budget, define the scope of the work to be accomplished and generate a timeline for completion.
“It has been a long process from the time we initiated our facilities audit to selecting the teams that will help us carry out these projects,” Mountain Brook Board of Education President Nicky Barnes said. “We are excited that our plans are coming to fruition and look forward to seeing the abiding, positive impact they will have on our school system and community.”
Work at Each School
There are three projects in the plan that will require new construction – one each at Mountain Brook High
School, Mountain Brook Junior High and Brookwood Forest Elementary. In addition, extensive renovations will take place at Cherokee Bend, Crestline and Mountain Brook Elementary.
Architecture firm B. Group Architecture Inc. will design renovations at Mountain Brook High School, TurnerBatson will design renovations at Mountain Brook Junior High and Goodwyn Mills Cawood will design renovations for Mountain Brook’s four elementary schools. Each firm presented its preliminary designs at the Oct. 27 board meeting.
Mountain Brook High School was built in 1966 and has been updated numerous times over the years. It’s last major addition included its existing Fine Arts Center, built in 2008.
At the forefront of the work to be conducted at the high school is the construction of a new, two-story academic wing that will replace the 100, 200 and 300 buildings, which are in the center of the facility.
The addition will feature 42 classrooms in the 200 and 300 wings. The 100 wing will be replaced by a new counseling suite.
In addition, the facility will gain a new band room, and renovations will be made to the dance studio and restrooms in the Fine Arts Center.
Mountain Brook Junior High, built in 1956, hasn’t had a major addition since 1999.
The facility plan includes a new, three-story main entrance building, including 18 classrooms. There also will be renovations to the locker rooms and expansions of the cafeteria and auditorium.
The school also will receive a new defining feature when a pitched roof and turret are installed over the media center.
While all four elementary schools will receive updates, Brookwood Forest Elementary school, built in 1964, will receive an entirely new look.
An addition to the front of the building will create a new main entrance, administrative suite and lunchroom.
Renovations also will be made to classrooms and restrooms, and the roof of the gym will be replaced.
Each of the remaining three elementary schools will receive HVAC improvements and new paint and flooring as needed.
At Cherokee Bend Elementary, the lunchroom, kitchen, restrooms and administrative suites will be updated. Crestline Elementary will be getting a new gym, as well as renovations to the auditorium, restrooms, main entrance and administrative offices.
Mountain Brook Elementary, the system’s oldest facility, was built in 1929 and has undergone several additions throughout the years, the last one in 2006. Work at the school will include renovations to the lunchroom, administrative offices and restrooms as well as window replacements and waterproofing.
While the official timeline for projects has yet to be released, school officials stated that some will begin as early as May 2021.