Helena high could cut PHS enrollment in half, principal says

By NEAL WAGNER / City Editor

A Helena high school could cut Pelham High School’s student enrollment by as much as 50 percent, and could cause several “major adjustments” at the school, said PHS Principal Bob Lavett.

Helena is considering raising its sales and use taxes by 1 percent to fund the purchase of 78 acres of land across Hillsboro Parkway from Helena Middle School. If the city purchases the land, which will likely cost about $1.7 million, the Shelby County School District has agreed to construct a new Helena high school on a portion of the land.

Because PHS currently serves students from Pelham and Helena, a new Helena high school would help with overcrowding issues at PHS, Lavett said.

According to Alabama High School Athletic Association school classification numbers from 2010, Pelham had a daily attendance of 1,120 students, which was an increase of about 105 students from 2008.

“Roughly half of our students are from Helena right now,” Lavett said. “The halls are packed, and we are operating near our capacity.

“Our grounds, as far as traffic and parking, has been impaired because we have so many students right now,” Lavett added.

Crews are currently working on a classroom and cafeteria expansion on the northwest end of the campus, which will help the school handle its short-term growth, Lavett said.

“It sounds like this (Helena high school) is still a few years out, so the classroom addition will help,” he said.

But if Pelham maintains the same growth numbers it has seen over the past several years, the classroom addition may also become full, Lavett said.

“By building a Helena high school, you would relieve the overcrowding,” Lavett said. “The issue is that we are never standing still. Our enrollment is always increasing. We are busting at the seams.”

Because the Helena high school would significantly reduce the PHS enrollment, it would cause several PHS extracurricular activities to experience “major adjustments,” Lavett said.

Lavett was an administrator at PHS in 1999, when the school split with Oak Mountain High School, and said splitting with Helena would be similar.

“That first year, you see a lot of changes. You’ve basically got half the size of the band, the choir, football and baseball,” Lavett said. “I think it will be a major adjustment.”

If Pelham’s most recent AHSAA daily attendance numbers were cut in half, it would place the school in line with attendance figures from many of the area’s Class 5A schools, which is a step below Pelham’s current AHSAA classification.

However, enrollment at PHS likely would continue to grow steadily after the split. Currently, Pelham’s attendance is about 100 more than it was before the PHS-OMHS split 12 years ago.

Shelby County Schools Superintendent Randy Fuller did not return calls seeking comment.