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Chamber hears plans, costs, pluses of Bartlett High School renovations

built-for-bartlett-logoThe vision, funding and practical need for a renovated and expanded Bartlett High School held the interest of Bartlett Area Chamber of Commerce members at the June 13 chamber meeting.

Bartlett City Schools Superintendent Dr. David Stephens was the guest speaker, outlining the upcoming three-year project and talking about funding details the city board approved in its new budget last week.

Stephens said he had barely started his tenure with the brand-new district when a high school employee approached him with a disheartening observation: “At Bartlett High School, facility-wise, we are so far behind.”

He quickly got up to speed on the needs of the aging buildings, the urgency of adding more classroom space for future growth, and problems like too little parking and too many areas where security could be improved. The oldest building, the auditorium, dates back to 1917. The “newest” was built almost 40 years ago.

Walking through the campus is like taking a historical tour of architecture from the 1950s through the 1970s, he said.

He and the school board knew the first priority was getting the new district operating smoothly and on a solid financial foundation. But frugal budgeting and the salting away of annual budget mean the district is ready to kick off its biggest project since BCS formed: A three-year $60 million renovation of the high school.

The project took two years of planning, he said. “We listened, we assessed, and then we dreamed.”

Stephens hit some of the highlights in his allotted speech, and more information is available on the builtforbartlett.com website. With some work beginning this summer, he said the project will winnow down the campus’s current 143 entrances, add 17 new educational spaces, deliver an expanded band hall and a bigger cafeteria, build a new stadium, improve handicapped access to gym facilities, make the library more accessible, improve pedestrian safety, enhance labs, expand fine arts and technical training, create better spaces for special education students, give all students large spaces where they can gather safely, add hundreds more parking spaces and accommodate the high school’s anticipated growth for the foreseeable future.

While the appearance alone isn’t the main driving factor, the renovated high school will have a clearly identifiable front office and an entrance with a “wow” factor, as well as a more cohesive look to the buildings’ facades.

The project, estimated at $55-$60 million, will expand and renovate the high school campus to accommodate student body growth up to a total of 2,250 students in grades 10-12, and it will keep the 9th Grade Academy at its current location.

At the June 13 city board meeting, the Bartlett mayor and aldermen approved a $0.35 property tax increase to provide additional funding to fire, police and schools, with $0.14 of that amount designated for the high school renovation.

Project funding includes a possible contribution of up to $8 million from the city’s reserves and bond/debt proceeds estimated to generate approximately $44 million. The school district will contribute $6-$10 million for furniture, fixtures and equipment.

The total annual amount to service the 20-year debt is about $3.5 million, with $1 million coming from the school district’s operating budget, $1 million in local option sales tax revenues and $1.5 million from the proposed $0.14 property tax increase.

Stephens said, “This is a way we can do this without totally strapping our citizens.”

He continued, “Then we will have a high school this community can be proud of for the foreseeable future.”

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