Parents voice concerns about Chelsea Middle School conditions; Shelby County Schools announces $1.5 million renovation

Published 1:25 pm Saturday, March 22, 2014

By KATIE MCDOWELL/General Manager 

COLUMBIANA – A group of Chelsea parents voiced concerns about Chelsea Middle School conditions, including repeated sewage backups, at a March 20 Shelby County Board of Education meeting.

In response to their concerns, the board approved a $55,000 emergency sewer repair, which will be completed next week, and announced plans for a $1.5 million renovation to the building.

Board President Aubrey Miller also thanked the parents for their input following their presentation at the meeting.

“I want to acknowledge this is a step in a process that didn’t start tonight,” he said, adding that the central office had kept board members abreast of meetings held with school officials and parents during the last few weeks.

Parents share concerns

Vicki Burelson, whose twin sons are eighth graders at Chelsea Middle, spoke on behalf of the Chelsea parents.

“The sewer system is a big concern for us. It’s very dated and poorly functioning. It has experienced eight backups this school year alone,” she said.

Burleson said the sewer problems allow “contaminated water to back into the girls’ and the boys’ locker rooms as well into the courtyard,” which poses a health risk for the students.

Other problems include flooding, a lack of outdoor lighting and non-compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act.

The group, which represented parents from all five Chelsea schools, also submitted to the board a list of 50 problems they identified with the school building and grounds.

“We (as parents) are going to get an independent generalized inspector from the EPA to come out and inspect the structure,” the statement read.

Burleson said Chelsea has the second largest enrollment in the school system, excluding Pelham, which will form its own school system this summer. The city of Chelsea has also seen tremendous growth over the last decade with 10,801 residents reported in the 2012 U.S. Census.

“As explained to me by a Shelby County Board of Education member just last week, the most critical factor in determining a school district’s needs for facility improvements is growth,” Burleson said. “When coupling the growth of our community with the over-crowded and aging facilities at Chelsea Middle School, it raises concerns for our parents.”

Scott Griffin, whose children attend Chelsea schools, said the parents began meeting about two months ago.

“I know a building doesn’t give your child an education,” he said. “At the end of the day, as a parent, you want your child to be proud of where they go to school.”

Athena David, who is the PTO president at Mt Laurel Elementary and who will soon have a child at Chelsea Middle School, said the school officials were “not immediately” receptive to parents’ concerns.

The parents began meeting with school officials several weeks ago, and Griffin said the two groups have “started to come together as a partnership.”

“There was a lot of work to get to where we are now,” he said.

Shelby County School System responds

The sewer line repair will cost approximately $55,000 and will be completed during spring break, which begins March 24.

The Chelsea Middle renovation is scheduled to bid in August and be completed in the spring of 2015, Deputy Superintendent Tom Ferguson said in an email. He also said smaller projects will be completed over the summer to address concerns about the building.

The Chelsea Middle renovation will connect and improve access between Chelsea Middle and the old Chelsea Intermediate buildings, as well as address many of the parents’ concerns. Lathan Associates Architects is overseeing the project.

The school’s gymnasium will be renovated with new bleachers, flooring, striping, mascot art and paint. The locker rooms beneath the gym will also be expanded and renovated, including new plumbing and fixtures.

The exterior of the buildings will be renovated to visually connect the two facilities with a new main entry, columns and accent roof colors.

“We’re going to squeeze every penny out of this budget,” said Lee Bryant, senior vice president of Lathan Associates.

Shelby County Schools Superintendent Randy Fuller thanked the parents for their input and recommendations and highlighted some of the projects the school system has completed in Chelsea over the last eight years, including three new elementary schools and the addition of classrooms to Chelsea High and Mt Laurel Elementary.