HARTSELLE — Tensions were high Thursday night as Hartselle school board members debated spending $220,000 on a fieldhouse at the new Bethel Road campus to make it equitable for boys and girls.
In late October, responding to community pressure, the school board approved renovations to the 50,000-square-foot athletic complex at the new high school to provide locker space for the girls’ softball team.
The addition was made in response to concerns that leaving out lockers for girls’ sports could be a violation of Title IX, a 1972 federal law that requires equal opportunities for males and females at educational institutions receiving public funds.
Architects Goodwyn, Mills and Cawood of Birmingham learned in December that changes to the $2 million fieldhouse would cost $55,000 more than the $165,000 estimate.
After nearly two months at the drawing board, school board Chairman James Joy said the architects “have not provided any fruit and don’t see any places where we can take money” away from the cost of the project.
“We’re so close to completion of the school that I don’t see where there are any places we can trim back without creating more problems,” he said. “I feel like we should dip into our reserve, make these improvements and move on.”
The school board will vote whether to take the unexpected $55,000 expenditure out of the system’s $8 million reserve Monday during its regular meeting at Hartselle Junior High.
School board members Randy Sparkman and Venita Jones expressed concerns Thursday about the cost of the high school and fieldhouse. Jones said she won’t approve any new expenditures at the $44 million facility until she completes a walk-through of the campus.
She plans to tour the new high school today with Superintendent William Michael Reed and Joy.
“I’m not going to vote to spend one more cent on that new school until I know what’s going on out there,” she said.
Sparkman said the system should cap spending at the new school until planning and the cost of upgrades at the Sparkman Street campus are complete.
Last month, the school board toured the current Hartselle High to determine potential upgrades to the 51-year-old campus, including cleaning, painting, parking lot improvements and a new heating and cooling system.
School board members voted in January to allow architects to seek bids for a new heating and cooling system, projected to cost about $1.2 million, at the Sparkman Street campus.
Seventh- and eighth-graders will move to the Sparkman Street campus in August. The Hartselle Junior High School campus will serve fifth- and sixth-graders this fall under the name Hartselle Intermediate School.
“At this point, the work at the new school and the work at the old school are competing,” Sparkman said. “I fully support getting girls’ softball in the fieldhouse, but we also need to get our plans and costs in order for what we’re going to do at Sparkman Street.”
School board member Jennifer Sittason said she was “very disappointed and ashamed” in Sparkman and Jones for what she called “a lack of respect at the table.”
“We have wonderful people out here, and I hear nothing but griping and complaining,” she said. “I would like to move forward with the new high school, so let’s be a team and move forward. It’s just a crying shame adults have to act like this.”
Football and baseball will occupy most of the new athletic facility, while softball will take up 580 square feet with storage, a coach’s office, showers, toilets and a media room. Girls also will have access to a weight room in the indoor practice facility.
Baseball will occupy 60 lockers, football 110 lockers and softball 30 lockers in the new athletic complex. Reed said it will cost the system $80,000 to install wooden lockers and $75,000 to install metal lockers.
Reed said there is $75,000 allotted for lockers, but the board will vote Monday whether to stay within budget or use reserve funds to pay the additional costs of wooden lockers.
The board also will decide whether to spend about $5,000 to hire the Alabama Association of School Boards in Montgomery to conduct a search for a new chief school financial officer.
Hartselle City Schools Chief Financial Officer Sarita Tapscott, who began working for the system in February 2007, resigned last month to take a position with Alabaster City Schools in March.
Lucy Berry can be reached at 256-340-2442 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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