School board OKs bid for Pelham High expansion

A Shelby County Board of Education agenda item to approve a bid to add classrooms and expand the cafeteria at Pelham High School led to questions about whether that money would be better spent to help fund a high school in Helena.

The school board voted three to one to one in favor of awarding a bid to D. Dean & Associates of Columbus, Ga., for $2.979 million for the classroom and cafeteria work at Pelham High School.

School board member Dr. David Nichols ultimately voted against approving the bid, after questioning what portion of the growth at Pelham High School is coming from students who live in Helena.

Dr. Randy Fuller, Shelby County Schools superintendent, said he would provide Nichols with specific numbers at a later date, but said Riverchase Middle School and Helena Middle School, both of which feed students into Pelham High School, are experiencing growth in students of about 250-300 each, each year.

“Chelsea, Calera, Alabaster, Helena and Pelham — all of these are growth areas that are a top priority for us,” Fuller said.

School board member Steve Martin said the funds the school board was spending on the classrooms and cafeteria expansion in Pelham are needed now, and must be spent now. He said the money is being held in escrow by the state at present.

“If we opened bids to build a Helena high school tonight, it would be two years before it was built,” Martin said. The work at Pelham High School is needed now, he said.

Fuller said the two projects are not related.

“(By approving the Pelham High School project) we are not taking money away from any other school. We’re just renovating that school,” Fuller said. He said he was aware that a number of community members in Helena would like to see a Helena High School constructed.

Nichols argued that Helena, which he said is the third-largest city in Shelby County, needs its own high school.

“Helena is the only city of any size in Shelby County that doesn’t have a high school…I just don’t want to see us — y’all — continue to pour millions of dollars into Pelham High School while at the same time, the third largest city in the county is without a high school. Helena is in a unique situation,” Nichols said.

“Our entire county is in a unique situation in our state,” Fuller said.

School board member Anne Glass abstained from the vote, while school board members Peg Hill, Martin and Dr. Lee Doebler voted to approve the bid.

In an unrelated issue, school board member Peg Hill asked if the school administration had been contacted by anyone from Calera about the purchase of the now-closed Shelby Academy, which is located just outside of Calera near the Montevallo-Calera line. She said she has heard rumors that the building is for sale and that some in Calera would like to see the county purchase the property to use as a school for Calera students.

Fuller said he has heard similar rumors but, “as far as I know, that is rumor and conjecture. We have heard (Shelby Academy) could be for sale, but we have had no notification that it is for sale.”

In other action Thursday, the school board:

Voted to swap a parcel of land with the city of Calera to facilitate the construction of a sports complex there.

Held its first of two budget hearings on the 2010-11 fiscal year budget. The second budget hearing is set for Aug. 19 during the school board’s regular meeting, which begins at 6 p.m. The school board will hold a work session before that meeting beginning at 4 p.m.