High school safety among bond priorities


Hattiesburg High School celebrated its 60th birthday this year, although the aging structure has not received a major facelift since a 2003 bond issue was passed. As what one administrator calls “the flagship of the school district,” a renovation is overdue.

On Tuesday, May 22, voters in the school district will be asked to renew the 4.84-mill tax that will provide as much as $22.5 million to renovate and maintain the schools during a special election. The vote to continue the millage requires 60 percent approval.

Hattiesburg Public School District Superintendent Dr. Robert Williams said the high school will see some major renovations and repairs if the bond issue passes.

“One of the things that it will go to work on is a new media center and library,” he said. “It will redo the student commons area – the courtyard area – add classrooms, upgrade the restrooms and redesign the multipurpose room on campus into a PE-facility gym. It will also repair and replace some roofing at the high school.”

At a town hall meeting earlier this week, HPSD Assistant Superintendent Dr. Michael Battle said the improvements to the high school will translate into a safer learning environment.

“The bond issue is going to go a long way in providing more safety on campus,” he said.

“The auditorium will be turned back into a gym for P.E. classes. That way, children won’t have to go across the street to get to the gym. Anything we can do to keep the kids on the campus is going to improve on the safety around the high school.”

Battle added that the perimeter fences will be brought in closer to the classrooms.

“Basically, in what I call the ‘face’ of the high school, we are going to bring classrooms into that new part of the facility,” he said. “That way, we are bringing more of our CTE (Career and Technical Education) courses up front and things of that nature. Then we can use the newer facilities for the technology. We have courses like robotics and polymers that we will be moving into that new facility.”

The changes will also limit access to the more than 1,000 students, Battle said.

“It would also serve as a one-way entry into the school,” he said. “Right now, there are multiple ways to get on the campus.”

Hattiesburg High School must stand above the other schools in the district, Battle said.

“The high school has to be the flagship of the school district,” he said. “When people think about moving into a district, they care about the elementary schools and the middle schools. But, they really want to know what your high school has, what it offers and how it can education their children. In many cases, it is going to determine which families will move in and which ones will stay.”

For example, Battle said he talked with a family last week from Hawaii. “The first thing they wanted to do was look at the high school,” he said.

Williams said the $22.5 million from the millage renewal still isn’t enough to make all the repairs and changes that are needed.

“We did a facility condition audit of all of our facilities,” he said during an exclusive interview. “We came up with somewhere in the neighborhood of $35 million-$40 million of repairs need in the district. But this particular bond issue is asking for a recurring millage that is currently on the books.”

Williams said the bond is really the best way to generate funds for infrastructure improvements without using operational money.

Hattiesburg Mayor Toby Barker emphasized that the referendum will not raise taxes, instead asking residents within the school district to continue the current millage rate.

“We see this as an opportunity for our citizens to recognize Hattiesburg only go as far as the public schools will allow to re-engage with its public schools and to renew its commitment to its next generation by making this vote an easy vote,” he said. “Our school district, already on the path to improvement in fiscal responsibility, will have the resources to make overdue renovations, additions and repairs to our schools to ensure that our students have a 21st-century learning environment. This should be a slam dunk.”

The city will open one polling place for each of the school district’s five wards. The polling places are:

•          Ward 1 - Highlands Precinct, Cornerstone Baptist Church on West Seventh Street.

•          Ward 2 - Train Depot.

•          Ward 3 - Thames Elementary School.

•          Ward 4 - Kamper Park Zoo.

•          Ward 5 - Rowan Elementary School.

Anyone who has any questions where they vote in the bond renewal referendum can call (601) 545-4501.

The election commissioners are Akbar Shaheed (Ward 1), Irene Williams-Jones (Ward 2), Steve Willis (Ward 3), Tim Phalen (Ward 4) and Kimberly-Joy Miri (Ward 5). Their terms are from March 20, 2018, until June 30, 2021.