COMMERCE — Approximately 30 parents, staff and administrators met in the Commerce Middle School gymnasium Tuesday to discuss improvements of the district's facilities.
The Commerce Board of Education held the meeting to receive public input regarding the construction of a new middle school and the update of the current elementary and high school facilities.
If a school bond were to pass, the cost would be added to taxpayer’s property taxes, also known as ad valorem, not sales taxes.
One citizen present at the meeting, Karen Crow, said the turnout for the public forum was shameful.
Commerce Middle School was built in 1935, which makes it a facility that requires constant maintenance year round. Board members stated that the cost it takes to upkeep the middle school could be used to building a new school, which would ultimately save time and money.
“There’s always a fear that someone would walk into our middle school building and say that it is unsafe,” board member Kevin Reading said. “At that point, if it’s unsafe, what is our next step? Where would we take our kids? Where would we have classrooms? We would like to be proactive in what it takes to better the facility.”
Another citizen, Carol Abernathy, voiced her concerns about the age of the current middle school and building a facility that is adequate enough for the town’s children.
“We need to have a first rate school for kids because we have first rate kids,” Abernathy said. “When our kids leave this school system, they become doctors, lawyers, engineers and teachers. They deserve better. This is why I came because next year, the bond issue will cost more and so will the year after that. You’re kidding yourself if you think prices are going to go down and you’re kidding yourself if you think that your surroundings do not have an affect on your learning, on your teaching and on your attitude because it does.”
The board displayed a slide show presentation of the proposed building plans, 2016 bond pricing estimates and taxpayer cost analysis diagrams.
“You can take your tax payment that you just received and we’ll tell you how to calculate how this bond issue will affect you,” Reading said. “It will affect everyone differently.”
For example, if a 15-year school bond were to pass for $6.6 million dollars, the tax increase would be 29.04 percent, which means if the individual pays $100 in taxes, next year the person would pay $129.04.
The board also discussed the price it would cost to build a gymnasium, classrooms and safe rooms. Reading said it costs $150 per square foot to build a classroom, $250 per square foot for safe rooms and $175 per square foot to build a gymnasium.
The board members agreed that incorporating safe rooms for the entire school district is a necessity for the safety of the children.
“We want to have more protection for our kids in case of an emergency, whether it be weather or violence,” Reading said. “We need to have more protection for our kids.”
Members of the board proposed two middle school blueprints, one option of the new school being built next to the high school and the second option being built on the grounds of the current middle school.
Jessica Swadley, a middle school parent, was concerned about option one.
“I came to Commerce my junior year and graduated from Commerce, but before that, I came from a school district that was all on one campus,” Swadley said. “I understand what mixing students in middle and high school is going to do and the problems that could result from it. I agree with building a new middle school, just not next to the high school.”
Middle school principal Jack Kelley said he has already considered this dilemma.
“I have received a lot of input regarding this concern,” Kelley said. “The middle school building would be a stand alone building. It would not be adjoined. There will be a gym, a cafeteria in the middle and the middle school would be a separate facility. Yes, we will be on the same campus, but there would be no adjoining hallways.
“We have several classes — I counted five today — that are transported to the high school. Our band class is at the high school and choir. We have two art classes and our eighth grade has always participated with the high school band. We have very little problems and nothing major that has happened.”
Swadley asked if there would be a contingency plan if the school bond were not passed to continue with the construction of the added safe rooms to the school district.
“We only have one shot,” Reading said. “We can’t go to the polls with three options and have them vote for either option A, option B or option C.”
For building option two, the board agreed to build around the current middle school in order for the students to have a facility during the construction process. People voiced concerns about tearing down the old building and about parking space.
While building the new middle school facility, the board decided it would be the most cost effective to update the high school and elementary school, as well. The elementary, middle and high school principals stated what each school needs.
Elementary school principal Kevin Wade’s main concern was safety and wants to incorporate a safe room in place of the outdoor modular buildings. In case of an emergency or inclement weather, administration and students have nowhere to go.
Kelley displayed photos of the current middle school, which needs multiple renovations. He also wants the new facility to be handicapped accessible.
High school principal Jim Buttram said the high school needed new carpet, renovations to the exterior and to also incorporate a safe room-cafeteria-concession area.
If the school bond were to pass, all three schools would be equipped with safe rooms that can house up to 1,000 people, which is more than half of the town of Commerce’s population. The proposed building plans and structure updates range anywhere from $5 million to $7 million dollars, depending on the renovations, which would be paid over a period of 15 years.
In order for the bond to pass, 60 percent of registered voters within the school district must vote yes.
No action was taken during the meeting, only suggestions from the public.