Looney talks facilities with county officials

Published 12:00 am Thursday, December 14, 2006

Superintendent Mike Looney painted a picture on Thursday night that Butler County Commissioner Glenn King called &#8220pretty bleak.”

Looney spent approximately an hour and a half with the commission during Thursday's work session, presenting them a slideshow of photographs that revealed how bad the school system's facilities had become.

Years of neglect, coupled with old age, have turned the majority of the system's facilities in the county - with the exception of the new Greenville High School - into deteriorating structures where administrators are dealing with everything from lack of heat in some classrooms to sinking floors in others.

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&#8220This is what our children and our teachers are exposed to on a daily basis,” said Looney. Looney and the Board of Education are seeking input from county and city officials as to what direction the school system needs to move in to solve the crisis. Thursday's meeting was the first in a series of meetings leading up to what Looney terms a &#8220community-wide summit” that will be held on Jan. 20.

An architect survey completed in October estimates that new construction and renovations at all schools in the county could cost between $20 million and $28 million.

Looney said officials must also struggle with questions surrounding population studies that forecast a drastic decrease in the number of school-aged children in south parts of the county. A University of Alabama population study, said Looney, indicates a six percent decline in enrollment in Butler County across the board.

But Looney said Georgiana High School and R.L. Austin Elementary have seen a substantially larger decrease than six percent in just the last five years. Georgiana High School has gone from 351 students in 2002 to 276 in 2006. R.L. Austin has dropped from 353 students to 307 students in that same time period, according to school enrollment data.

One of the recommendations made by architects is to close both Georgiana High and R.L. Austin and combine both schools into a brand new facility in Georgiana. The new building would cost an estimated $14.6 million dollars.

&#8220The new school could very well stimulate growth in Georgiana,” said Looney.

Whatever decision is made, it needs to be made quickly, said Looney. Costs of construction rise one percent for every month a decision is delayed.

&#8220The school system is making progress and people are excited,” said Looney. &#8220This is our chance to seize some of this excitement and move forward.”

Board member Linda Cook-Hamilton encouraged the county commission to study the system's facility plans and be actively involved in the board's decision making.

&#8220We need to speak with one voice about our schools,” said Hamilton.