AMS: Stay or go?

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Members of the Andalusia City School Board are faced with a more than $2 million question about Andalusia Middle School – “Should we stay or should we go?”

At a Monday workshop, architect Joe Donofro presented cost estimates for a total renovation of the AMS building, as well as estimates for the construction of new facilities on the elementary school campus and the high school campus if the board choosing to leave the current AMS location.

In July, the project was approved a five-year capital plan that would close the current Andalusia Middle School campus, placing seventh and eighth graders at the high school and sixth graders on the elementary school campus in an effort to save an estimated $500,000 in annual staff and operating costs.

Initial plans were to build a separate wing for the upper-level middle schoolers at the high school and build a separate kindergarten wing at the elementary school to make room for sixth graders there. But board members said Monday that plan could potentially change.

“There was a great deal of concern about the transition from sixth grade to seventh grade for the students and going from elementary to high school,” Superintendent Ted Watson said. “We got to thinking, and there were several factors that also went along with that.

“The option we have now is to create something like a sixth grade academy,” he said. “They would still get the feel of being separate from the elementary school, while having that whole experience of having lockers and changing classes.

“Additionally (if that option is chosen), it would be cheaper to build,” he said. “The classrooms don’t have to be as large. There’s not a need for additional restroom facilities like if it were a pre-k facility. Things of that nature.”

While Donofro didn’t provide a cost estimate on a “sixth grade wing,” he did provide board members with an idea of the cost of renovation versus new construction.

He said it would cost upward of $2 million to completely renovate the current AMS building; take a year to complete and would call for the property to be vacated for the duration of the project.

“Nothing in there is up to code – not the AC, the alarm system or the electrical system,” Donofro said. “You’ve got plumbing issues that can only be fixed by busting up the foundation. The corridors don’t meet life safety codes because of all the windows. Those would have to be pulled out and the walls blocked up. There’s asbestos in floor and the roof.

“There’s Americans with Disability Acts issues everywhere, like doorways that aren’t large enough,” he said. “These things add up, and I don’t see how you could do this project without relocating students.”

Board member Amy Dugger pointed out that the cost of portable classrooms for one year is not included in the cost estimate.

Donofro said the cost estimate to construct a 20,000 square-foot seventh and eighth grade facility came in at $1.7 million, and $1.08 million to construct a 13,500 square-foot facility on the AES campus.

He said each project would be designed to complement the existing campuses.

Watson said the system has applied for two federal “Safe Room” grants, which, if awarded, would allow for the construction of a room designed to accommodate the whole student and staff body in times of severe weather inside each new facility. Watson said an award decision is expected soon and it could impact the board’s decision on which avenue to pursue.

“That’s about $700,000 in grant funds that could be used for the project,” he said.

Donofro said the rooms’ construction cost was not included in the presented cost estimates.

“The question is do (the renovation at AMS) or do you put that money elsewhere?” Donofro asked. “I’m here to give you as close of an actual cost as I could so you could make the best decision. Now, you have to decide.”

Watson said he plans to hold meetings with teachers, principals and vice principals in the coming weeks to seek input on the construction project and their ideas of what is wanted in the classrooms. Findings should be presented at the March board workshop.BOE looks at AMS options