The group spent a few hours Thursday in Hartselle touring the high school that is almost complete in that north Alabama city. That project, with a price tag of around $40 million, is a joint effort of the City of Hartselle and the Hartselle City Schools.
“Harselle is similar in size to Jasper, and the high school here is similar to our high school,” Jasper Mayor Sonny Posey said. “This construction is the result of a sales tax increase that was passed by the city. We wanted to come and take a look at what they were doing with their construction.”
The proposed Walker High School construction has an estimated cost of $61 million, which would include a 285,000-square foot main building, a complete athletic complex with a new football stadium and a 1,500-seat performing arts center. In comparison, the Hartselle project is 260,000-square foot facility with some athletic facilities, but it does not include a football stadium.
Posey said city officials are looking forward to the construction of a new Walker High School, but the tax dollars being spent on the project must be invested properly.
“We are going to visit several schools and talk to several different architects just to make sure we are looking at every possible angle of this project,” he said. “Our goal is to come up with the best possible facility per dollar invested.”
Jasper Schools Superintendent Robert Sparkman said board of education members have visited numerous schools in the last several years, preparing for the construction of a new Walker High.
“Our folks are to the point where they are pretty familiar with different architectural features,” Sparkman said. “We’ve seen several schools across the state. The trip to Hartselle gave us a chance to tour a school with members of the city council.”
Jennifer Smith, the District 4 city council representative, said the trip to Hartselle was eye-opening.
“Even though their construction wasn’t finished, it was still amazing to see some of the features their new school will have,” Smith said. “To be able to see what other schools have that we are lacking is something that is eye-opening. The future of the younger generation is counting on us to provide them with everything they need to be as successful as they can possibly be. Our high school facility is in desperate need of an upgrade.”
Hartselle Schools Superintendent Mike Reed said the community was considered in every step of the construction process.
“This is Hartselle’s high school,” he said. “If the community were not a part of this school, there wouldn’t be much need in building it.”
Posey said he expects the new Walker High will also be a centerpiece of the community.
“One of our goals is the new school be a community facility,” Posey said. “The proposed performing arts center will fill a major need in our city. It is something that will be available for the community to use for a variety of events.”
Jasper officials, with the city and with the board of education, said looking over the plans for the school one last time is where they are at in the process.
“Our staff has been a part of this process since the beginning,” Sparkman said. “We want to have them take a look at the plans one more time to make sure there is nothing that we have overlooked.”
Posey said he feels plans for the new school may need to include more technical training. District 1 Councilman Jed Daniel has been a proponent of that idea.
“We’ve had that question raised, and I think it is worth discussing,” Posey said. “It’s something we need to look really close at. We don’t want to duplicate what is being done at the Walker County Center of Technology or Bevill State, but highly-trained young people would make for a good workforce for industries that are locating in our city.”
Posey said city council members are planning to visit other schools in the next few weeks. A trip to the new Hueytown High School is planned for this week.