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School and city proceed with elementary land

By PAT BROWN,

The plan for the Simpson County School District to transfer the former campus of Magee Elementary School to the City of Magee for use as a Headstart facility was almost derailed at a specially called meeting of the Simpson County School Board on Thursday.

When the called meeting was to begin at 5 p.m., there was no quorum.  Board members Linda Curlee and Dale Shotts did not attend the meeting.  Board president Stacey Herring was 10 minutes late citing heavy traffic as a reason. 

The meeting started with members Herring, Sammy Welch and Lillie Hardy, Superintendent Greg Paes and board attorney Wesla Leech in attendance.  Magee Alderman Patrick Brown was making the presentation on behalf of the City of Magee.  Magee’s city attorney, Bruce Smith, and  Magee Mayor Dale Berry attended, along with Dr. Johnathan Binds, director of Five County Child Development. 

The plan is to move the operations center for Five County to Simpson County.  It is currently  housed in Jeff Davis County in a former elementary facility.  The problem is that upgrades to that facility would be more costly than building new.  The Magee buildings  are actually newer construction and meet new federal guidelines.  Some of the old Magee Elementary buildings would need to be demolished, which Dr. Binds said would be taken care of by the federal government, thereby avoiding an expensive asbestos abatement issue. 

The facility would serve  200 children who are currently being served through the Simpson County School District.  Binds also said that the administrative staff of 35 positions would be moved to Simpson County in addition to teachers and other staff members who operate the existing Headstart program.  The program will also bring an operating budget of $6.5 million into the county. 

Hardy questioned whether other programs would be available to the community since the old facility had served upwards of 900 children.    Brown told the board that they had to have a commitment from the school board as well as Headstart before they could solicit other programs.  He did say, however, that other non-profit programs that might be suited to working with the Headstart program had been discussed. 

 Board president Stacy Herring asked about the cost associated with the asbestos issues on the old campus and was told that help was available through the federal government.  Alderman Brown and Smith reported that they have had discussions with federal agencies on the asbestos issue. 

Herring then said she had a comment that “probably was going to anger some folks.”  She stated that the City of Magee was not willing to waive requirements which cost the school district a lot of money when the new elementary was being built.  “And now you want us to give you this building.”  That evoked an angered response from attorney Bruce Smith, who said there was little conversations between the school board and the city during the planning stage for the new school because the city was not in the loop about the school decisions regarding the elementary location. 

Smith then said requirement to add a storm shelter which came up late in the planning and budgeting process for the new school “was an obvious error” which the architect  “admitted he missed.”  Herring said this cost the school board $600,000.  Smith told the board the building code had been adopted two years prior to the school being built. 

He added that if the city had waived the shelter requirement and something had happened, not only would the city have been sued but also the school board because they cut corners on complying with the building code.

Alderman Brown said he had been part of an advisory committee that helped the school board try to locate property options for the building of the new facility.  Smith informed the board that the city made efforts to work with the schools and acquire property to make the road public through the industrial park.    

The group discussed what needed to happen next.  Leech read the requirements, which included insurance, a reverter clause, a title search and other legal issues.

 Lillie Hardy moved to proceed with the transfer of property to the City of Magee.  The issue must now be presented to the Magee Board of Aldermen  for their approval.  If the transfer goes as expected, the facility could be open in the fall of 2018.