Board votes to close middle school

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By Tia Lynn Ivey managing editor

The Morgan County Middle School (MCMS) will close and be rebuilt on the current site of the Morgan County High School (MCHS) on College Avenue in Madison in 2019 to establish a $53.5 million consolidated campus that will house a new College and Career Academy (CCA) and Transportation facility, in addition to a new high school and middle school.  The project will be funded partly through the Education Special Project Local Option Sales Tax (ESPLOST), grants, and school money. The plan to close and relocate MCMS, which used to house the historic Pearl-Burney Street School, was finalized with a unanimous vote at Monday’s Morgan County Board of Education meeting.  But the plan to consolidate the College Avenue campus did not come without controversy. In the months leading up to this vote, over 100 community members voiced their opposition to the plan, believing the local community in the Canaan District would suffer if the school were removed from the neighborhood.

Some argued surrounding properties values would plummet if the school closed down. Others argued the history and legacy of Pearl-Burney Street School would be tarnished and forgotten. Others argued it was more fiscally sound to update or rebuild the school at its current site rather move it. Others argued that crime and illegal activity would increase in the area without a school in the neighborhood. And some argued the school system simply wanted to move the school across town because it currently resides in “a black neighborhood.” But after months of public debate, meetings, and petitions, the BOE has decided to move forward with establishing a consolidated campus, believing it to be in the best interest of the students of Morgan County.  Superintendent James Woodard addressed the pros and cons of closing down MCMS at Monday night’s meeting, ultimately deciding that the pros far outweigh the cons.

“We acknowledge that there are some cons, and those were very clearly pointed out to us during the public hearing process,” began Woodard. “Some of those include removing the school from the Canaan neighborhood and the increased traffic to the new campus.” “But this is the next decision point and it’s a very big decision point for our community, relocating the middle school,” said Woodard, who noted preserving MCMS would require too many risks and obstacles to overcome. Woodard sited the current locations limited acreage, uncertain viability of surrounding acreage, and jeopardizing state approval and funds if the BOE does not move forward with the consolidated campus plan.

“There are multiple restrictions we would have on that site,” said Woodard. “The likelihood of approving that middle school site would almost be nonexistent.” Woodard committed to working with the local community to ensure the legacy of the Pearl-Burney Street School would be preserved and the old MCMS building repurposed once the school closes. The current timeline anticipated by the BOE is for construction to begin on the new CCA and MCHS simultaneously in December 2016. A portion of the CCA will open first, December 2017.

The remaining sections of the CCA and new high school are expected to be completed and open in August of 2018. Then the old high school building will be demolished and construction of the new middle school would began, with a completion date tentatively slated for December 2019. “It’s an aggressive plan from the get go,” said BOE Chairman Nelson Hale. In the next year, the BOE will meet with the public and various school and community committees to help develop and finalize the conceptual plans for the consolidated campus.

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