Group uses online forum to push for Helena high school

Published 4:10 pm Monday, August 2, 2010

Many Helena citizens are using a new forum to voice their opinions on the need for a Helena high school. A new Facebook group, Help Helena High School, emerged this week and gained close to 900 members in seven days.

Kym Rollan, Helena building inspection clerk and city magistrate, was part of the group who started the Facebook group. She said much of the interest was in response to the Board of Education’s proposed $3 million expansion for Pelham High School, where Helena students attend.

“Pelham High School is already way too big. Adding on doesn’t solve the problem,” she said. “The big problem is overcrowding. A Helena high school would take half of the 1,700 students out of Pelham.”

Rollan was on the steering committee to get Helena Middle School, which opened in 2008, and said she thinks getting a high school would require the same amount of organization and support. A steering committee has not officially formed, but the Facebook group is a good way to get the conversation going, she said.

“I was not surprised at all at how quickly the group grew,” she said. “Any time we do anything involving our children, we see a lot of support.”

Tom Ferguson, assistant superintendent of operations for Shelby County Schools, said Helena citizens should not be discouraged by the classroom additions at Pelham High School.

“This in no way delays or prevents the building of an additional school,” he said. “At Pelham, we’re just trying to eliminate the portables they’ve been using and add classrooms that they sorely need. They will still have this need for classrooms even after Helena eventually splits.”

The $3 million to expand Pelham High School comes from a $20 million bond issue from the state to eliminate portables, Ferguson said. The expansion in Pelham will add about eight new classrooms, including an art classroom.

Ferguson said the Board of Education does anticipate putting a high school in Helena eventually, just as they have expanded there in the past with both the intermediate school and the middle school.

“The history of facilities we’ve built in the Helena community prove that the scrutiny of the zone is there,” he said. “It’s just a matter of us right now being able to get back to a building program.”

The problem is money, Ferguson said. A Helena high school would cost about $30 million to build, not including the added personnel cost.

“The $3 million for the Pelham expansion, that’s peanuts compared to what it would cost for a Helena high school,” he said. “We can’t just sock that money away when we’ve got schools with portables that need extra classrooms.”

The board understands the need and the desire of Helena to have its own high school, Ferguson said.

“It’s not an us-versus-them issue,” he said. “We’re all together, we’re all on the same page. The Board of Education and concerned Helena citizens can be partners not adversaries.”

Rollan said her group will continue their efforts to push for a Helena high school. As the Facebook group grows, they’re planning on putting together a more organized effort. Helena is the biggest municipality in Shelby County without their own high school, she said.

“We want the Board of Education, senators and everyone to know that we’re serious about getting a high school here. We need one and we will support one.”