Vestavia Hills residents will soon be asked to vote for a tax increase to fund major facility upgrades at Vestavia Hills City Schools.
Superintendent Todd Freeman unveiled the 1Rebel 1Future improvement plan on July 25, which includes plans to modernize each of the district’s eight school facilities.
Areas of focus include expanding the system’s STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) and world language offerings, as well as creating new and improved spaces for fine arts and athletics, and improving the district’s ability to provide holistic support to students, he said freeman
“We’re in a school system that has some aging facilities,” Freeman said. “We have limitations on how we can provide deep learning experiences for all of our students.”
More than 300 stakeholders participated in providing feedback on the plan, with meetings and first plans beginning in 2019. Although the system is now better suited to the growth in enrollments, after investing $110 million in facilities in recent years, all campuses need upgrades, Freeman said.
Potential additions include STEM labs, new art spaces, more world language curricula, more counseling and other opportunities, Freeman said. School facilities also need upgrades to HVAC systems, lighting, roofing and water systems, he said.
Although the system’s campus area has grown 23% since 2012, they haven’t hired additional maintenance staff to maintain those buildings, Freeman said.
Vestavia Hills High School plans to build a new arts center for band, choir, art and theater, as well as a new kitchen, expanded cafeteria and multipurpose facility.
A plaza and common space will connect the cafeteria and arts center, as well as the arts center with a new proposed indoor track and field facility to be located between the gymnasium and Thompson-Reynolds Stadium.
While 100 spaces were lost in the area around the gym and soccer field, 270 spaces would be added, a net gain of 170 spaces, Freeman said. The proposal calls for the school’s tennis and athletics programs to be moved to the fields behind the former Vestavia Hills Elementary Central campus, allowing for six tennis courts, a center court and an athletics facility. While the system will consider selling the school building itself, it plans to maintain the fields, Freeman said.
The existing high school tennis courts would be converted to parking lots, along with some school-owned land in the hills currently used for student parking, Freeman said.
Changes at Pizitz include a new locker room, while Liberty Park Middle School will have an additional gymnasium and future classroom expansion.
STEM classrooms are planned at each of the district’s five elementary schools, as well as multipurpose classrooms at Vestavia Hills Elementary East and Vestavia Hills Elementary West. East would also get more classrooms and an expanded gym, while West would get new music rooms and a renovated gym, Freeman said.
Financially, Freeman said the system is expected to save $1 million from new energy management efforts and also receive funding from grants and the potential future sale of the Central property.
The system has strong reserves, but not enough to make all the necessary upgrades to the system’s facilities, Freeman said.
Sometime that fall, Freeman told the board he would come up with a plan for a tax hike, which would then have to go to voters, though he said it wouldn’t be as large as a 10 million hike approved by voters in Mountain Brook for their city school system in 2019.
The system currently receives 52.06 of the city’s 92.6 mills in property taxes, Freeman said, and spends $12,770 per student.
“Investing today increases the value of Vestavia Hills City Schools and the community experience of tomorrow,” said Freeman.
Education Committee President Jennifer Weaver said it is important to have a vision that benefits all Vestavia students.
“Nobody likes to hear the word tax increase,” Weaver said. “But we have to make the decision: do we stay as we are or do we go further? … If we don’t move forward, we move backward.”
In other business, the Board has:
- Approved an opt-in policy for parents who must now opt-in to all counseling and mental health services their child should receive for students ages 14 and under. This does not include mental health issues covered in the curriculum.
- Approved updates related to mental health guidelines and drug screening in the Parent-Student Handbook
- Approved fee schedules, meal prices and excursion policies
- Approved advertising guidelines and a new license agreement
- Approved a $44,000 credited change order for West library renovations
- Approved a contract with the Southern Regional Education Board that will provide advisory services and feedback to improve the system’s STEM offerings at a cost of $69,300 per year