Future is uncertain for some HPSD schools

By DAVID TISDALE,

The future of one or more Hattiesburg Public School District elementary schools is uncertain as the district explores options to maximize its financial resources.

Superintendent Robert Williams discussed school reorganization options Tuesday night during one of a series of meetings being held throughout the community and hosted by the district this month.

Williams said the recommendations were made in an audit conducted by the Lean Frog education resources consulting firm. Some of the reorganization options presented could lead to changes in school attendance zones if adopted, and relocation of programming.  

Elementary schools in the district that are well below enrollment capacity are part of the basis for recommendations by the consulting firm for closure or consolidation that could save money on building upkeep. Hawkins and Woodley Elementary Schools, as well as the Mary Bethune Alternative Center, are among those facilities recommended in various closure and consolidation scenarios.

The superintendent said he expects he will make a recommendation about any possible school consolidations, based on the information provided by the consulting firm and input from community members, to the HPSD Board of Trustees in September.

Williams also provided updates on ongoing renovations at several schools that are funded with proceeds from the renewal of ad valorem taxes approved overwhelmingly last year by voters.

The meetings with various groups throughout the school district began prior to the voter passage of the property tax renewal and will continue through the summer to also include discussions about potential elementary school consolidations and program relocations.

The latest renovations, which make up Phase I of the repairs, include:

• Renovations to the gymnasium at Rowan Elementary continues that includes replacement of the floor, which had major damage caused by termites; new LED lighting; and painting the interior red and gray, which were the colors of the school when it served as the city’s African-American high school prior to desegregation of the school district in the early 1970s. Other work to the gym will make it compliant with regulations set forth in the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).

• Restrooms at Hattiesburg High School (HHS), Rowan and Thames Elementary are currently being renovated; the gymnasium at HHS will return to its original design and purpose after having it's interior redesigned to include classrooms.

• An awning for the bus stop drop-off/pickup site at Rowan is underway.

• Renovation to the front office at Grace Christian Elementary, as well as LED lighting installment at the school.

• Replacing aging mechanical and electrical infrastructure to schools throughout the district.

• Structural repairs at Woodley Elementary School.

• Thames, Rowan and Woodley Elementary Schools, which are built below street level and prone to flooding, will also undergo additional renovation designed to address this issue. 

While the property tax renewal provides more than $20 million for repairs and renovations throughout the district, up to $40 million had been previously recommended by architects and consultants during audits of its facilities.

The next facilities update session is set from 5:30 – 6:30 p.m. Tuesday, July 23, at the Hawkins Elementary Auditorium.

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