Land swap clears way for new Calera High

A land swap between Calera and the Shelby County Board of Education could create space for a new Calera High School, if voters approve a 9-mill property tax increase in a Jan. 13 referendum.

The Shelby County Board of Education traded 18 acres off Shelby County 20 for Calera city land just behind Oliver Park, where the new high school will be built.

Calera City Council and the Board of Education began discussing a location for a new Calera High School about four years ago, according to Calera Mayor George Roy. The Board of Education bought 37 acres adjacent to the park at that time, he said.

Calera city leaders hope Oliver Park will become a center for learning and athletics, with space at the park already reserved for a new Calera public library.

&uot;I’ve always felt like it would be the best place for it,&uot; Roy said. &uot;It all comes together as a great learning facility, as well as an athletic facility.&uot;

Roy said the city could use the property for recreational space, such as ball fields. Currently, the 60-acre Oliver Park serves as the home field for the Calera Eagles football team. The park features a track around the football field, a wooded walking trail and four baseball fields, with a fifth planned to open in the summer of 2004.

The main entrance to the new high school will be off of Shelby County 25, although a road through the park will also provide access to Shelby County 20.

Funding for the new school hinges on a countywide property tax vote on Jan. 13. The Board of Education proposed the 9-mill increase to fund a five-year capital outlay plan that will cost about $150 million.

The tax increase would be tacked onto 30 mills for schools already in place. A mill is one-tenth of one cent.

Roy said the new high school will be built much faster if voters pass the Jan. 13 referendum. Either way, Roy and Board of Education officials said a new high school will eventually be built at Oliver Park.

&uot;If the 9-mill vote passes, we will get our school much quicker. We need it now,&uot; Roy said. &uot;Enrollment keeps increasing.&uot;

According to Ken Mobley, coordinator of student services for Shelby County Schools, the county is divided into eight high school zones.

The Calera school zone is growing at about 10 percent annually, he said. Currently, there are about 1,100 students in the Calera zone. That number is expected to grow to about 1,700 by fall 2008. Calera High School is expected to grow from 551 students this year to about 600

for 2004-2005.

&uot;Hopefully that will hold true, but it may not,&uot; Mobley said of the 10 percent growth rate. &uot;Sometimes in areas with a lot of construction, it (enrollment growth) mushrooms from the lower grades.&uot;

Most of the growth in the Calera school zone is from the elementary and middle schools, according to Tom Ferguson, assistant superintendent of operations for Shelby County Schools.

Calera Elementary School is already at capacity following the addition of six new classrooms this summer, Ferguson said.

After the new high school is built, Calera High will split from the middle school to make room for the increasing numbers of elementary students.

Currently, the Board of Education has not selected an architect for the new high school. According to Ferguson, the county would not begin collecting money from the increased mills until October.

Ferguson said if the tax increase is approved, the Board will likely select an architect.

Other capital plans included in the 9-mills referendum for county schools are a new middle school in Helena to alleviate crowding at Riverchase Middle School and a new elementary school in Chelsea