Voters get final say on school plans

Published 8:15 pm Saturday, January 13, 2018

The Vicksburg Warren School District Board of Trustees has made its decision on what changes they plan to make to the system’s facilities.

Now, it is up to Warren County voters to decide if the board will be able to move forward.

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The board voted unanimously Dec. 19 to go forward with a recommendation from Dale/Bailey Architects of Ridgeland that calls for massive renovations to the two existing high schools, the construction of a new Academy of Innovation between Vicksburg and Warren Central junior highs and infrastructure improvements at all district elementary schools.

“The board made very clear about choosing that particular option that they did not want makeup or a Band-Aid,” superintendent Chad Shealy said. “Although we are maintaining the two high schools and we felt like our community could continue to support two high schools, they had to be the best. Gary Bailey (with Dale/Bailey) has done some amazing projects. He has worked with multiple districts through their renovations.”

The project is expected to cost $132 million; $83 million will come from a proposed bond issue that must be approved by 60 percent of Warren County voters.

The election on the bond will be held March 27 with Vicksburg and Warren Central high schools serving as precincts.

The additional $49 million will be paid for with a loan that will fit within the current VWSD budget as funding for the two mega-schools rolls off the books.

“It is a broad plan. There are some specifics of what would be addressed, but we don’t have detailed drawings of what it will look like,” board president Bryan Pratt said. “We have not really invested anything in our infrastructure or facilities in 30 years. It is time to invest in our children’s future. Vicksburg will prosper as a result of it even if you don’t have children.” If the bond is approved in March, the expectation is that it will take about 60 days for the bond to sell and for funding to start coming in. Immediately after the election, the board would be able to start working with Dale/Bailey on architectural drawings of what would be done at each facility. Shealy said the key with this plan is that every school in the district gets a piece of the pie.

“We are building our community’s schools,” Shealy said. “Our community will have one shot at this probably in the next 30 years. This is a huge undertaking and a transformation of our physical plans.

“We want to put all the effort into our education system to make it the best it can be, which becomes a selling point for everybody that moves to our community. This isn’t just about making the schools better. This is about making Vicksburg better.”

Dale/Bailey has worked with more than 100 school districts throughout the state including Rankin, Madison and Desoto counties, and company principal Gary Bailey said under this plan Vicksburg’s will be comparable to any in the state.

“They would be as good as anybody in the state,” Bailey said. “I think that is part of the purpose of this plan is to create high quality for Vicksburg Warren to compete with every one else. They would be as good as the Madison Counties and the Clintons and the Rankin Counties. There are two issues. One is some new construction that takes them to the higher level and also fixing what they’ve got and taking care of their infrastructure. You’ve got to do both.”

The biggest changes would occur at Vicksburg and Warren Central high schools, which were determined to have substantial overcrowding during a facilities study performed by Dale/Bailey. Both schools would see major renovations and expansions including the construction of dedicated labs for each of the three career academies.

“There are a lot of choices and options that are still out there that can be developed once the vote is made, but ultimately both of the high schools will have state of the art academic academies,” Shealy said. “They will have the opportunities for galleries and fine arts. They will have opportunities for business centers with a real shop.”

A state of the art Academy of Innovation will also be constructed allowing the Bowmar Elementary magnet program to expand into the Grove Street facility.

“Every year we turn away parents who apply for Bowmar and they can’t get in because we only have X number of seats,” Shealy said. “In this particular solution it does give us the opportunity to build that Academy of Innovation, which will be a state of the art STEM, engineering junior high school, which is located right between the two junior highs.”

The elementary schools would each receive different things with some getting new roofs and not others, but all the schools would get upgrades to enable them to handle the amount of technology currently used by students.

“When you consider we have over 8,000 devices that our children operate under every day and none of our buildings were designed to support that,” Shealy said. “Long gone are the days where one outlet in a square room is the best solution for learning. The opportunities for students to have real work experience, labs to learn in, it transforms our academy processes.”

The plan also calls for about $18 million to be spent upgrading the athletic facilities used by the two high schools.

“Our sports facilities are in dire need of upgrade. I am not sure there is another 6A high school in our conference that doesn’t have the privilege of turf,” Shealy said. “Our tracks have not been operable in multiple years. We can’t host a field event. To have a 6A and a 5A school where we can’t even have a track event, that is not acceptable.”