Architect firm chosen for Hattiesburg school improvements

By DAVID TISDALE,

An initial step in making physical improvements to schools in the Hattiesburg Public School District was taken Oct. 2, when its Board of Trustees selected an architectural firm.

Allred Stolarski Architects, P.A. of Ocean Springs was chosen by the trustees at its monthly meeting, one of a team of architects which will be finalized later, as well bids for construction and a start date for the project.

In May, voters overwhelmingly passed a bond issue that renewed a tax put in place in 2001, and is expected to provide approximately $22 million in improvements to facilities that include Hattiesburg High School, N.R. Burger Middle School and the district’s elementary schools.

Board of Trustees President Delores McNair said improvements at Hattiesburg High would include those focused on security, citing a new single point of entry for visitors, by bringing the outside gate inward, as well as renovating math and science classrooms in the two-story building on the south side of the campus.

A domed building that originally served as a gymnasium on the east side of the high school campus near the football stadium will be renovated to again serve in that capacity for physical education classes. The facility had been modified decades ago to feature classrooms.  McNair said this is another safety feature that eliminates students taking physical education classes from having to walk across the street (Stadium Drive) from Buddy Watkins Gymnasium.

Electrical and HVAC work will be done at all schools in the district, McNair said.

*During the board meeting’s public comment period, a longtime Hattiesburg Schools bus driver called for the Board of Trustees and school administrators to take action on what he said is chronic disruptive behavior by student passengers on district buses.

Jimmie Payton, who said he has been a bus driver for the district for about 30 years, said multiple referrals for disciplinary action have seemingly gone ignored as the problem worsens and drivers quit in frustration. He was joined by other district bus drivers, who sat in the audience in a show of support.

“All we ask for is better support on referrals,” Payton said.  “We don’t need new rules, just enforce the rules that are already there.”

Payton asked board members and administrators to view video taken on busses he said will provide evidence of students engaged in extremely unruly behavior, so they can better understand the situation. “It will blow your mind,” he said.

More bus drivers are needed, Payton said, but dealing with the accompanying discipline challenges undermines recruitment. “They see how these children act, and they say, ‘Oh, no.’”

Payton believes the problem is so serious that school resource (security) officers should be on hand for meetings involving those cited for misbehavior. “Let’s be real now, these days, people shoot first and ask questions later,” he said.

Board Trustees member Cary Varnado thanked Payton for coming forward to speak on the issue, as well as the other bus drivers who attended.

Varnado asked Payton if the problem was associated with any particular school or schools. “All of them,” Payton said. “Every one of them.”

“I’m extremely concerned,” Varnado said. “This is a serious problem that I wish I had known about a long time ago,” adding that the cases needed immediate follow-up from school administrators.

The next regular meeting of the HPSD Board of Trustees is set for Nov. 8.

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