New schools for Jacksonville?
by Laura Johnson
The Jacksonville City Council is progressing with a financial plan to help build at least one new school.

On Monday it gave Mayor Johnny Smith the authority to sign a contract that will essentially allow the city to borrow $4 million to help Jacksonville City Schools fund construction projects. School officials said they would like to combine the city’s borrowing power with their own to build a new elementary school and possibly to build a middle school.

“It’s a demonstration of our working relationship and our much improved communication with the city,” said Mike Poe, Jacksonville City School Board chairman. “We certainly want to work with the city of Jacksonville to ensure we’re educating all students in the best and safest manner possible.”

City and school officials said the decision is an important step to help the system build new facilities, but it may not be the only step the city takes to help build schools. Jacksonville City Council Chairman Mark Jones said the council may consider several options, including scaling back plans for the proposed safety complex or helping the schools secure more money to help the school system build new buildings.

School officials say it would take about $18 million to build a new elementary school and to build a middle school. After the council’s Monday decision, it can plan on having $4 million to spend for the projects and the system plans to secure another $10 million to help the schools.

If the system can’t find the extra $4 million, it will prioritize the construction of the elementary school, said Superintendent Jon Paul Campbell.

Campbell said that according to architectural reviews conducted last year, the elementary school will soon require extensive repairs. While architects have determined that the school’s buildings need to be replaced, Campbell said the public has long wanted to build a middle school in order to give students in grades six through eight their own space.

Because of the building’s deteriorating condition, the system is prioritizing the elementary project but officials are also very interested in the development of a middle school.  

Jones emphasized the need to separate children in the middle school grades from the high school grades for social development purposes, while Campbell said the it would be best to ensure the students were given a middle school for their academic development.

Even if the system and the city are together able to secure enough funding for both projects, Jacksonville residents will have to wait some time to see construction begin.

“I guess the biggest thing you have going is that we have a great line of communication with the city council,” Campbell said. “I think we’re moving forward, but it’ll be a long process.”

Staff Writer Laura Johnson: 256-235-3544.
© 2013