ACS delays opening of city’s new high school

By NEAL WAGNER / Managing Editor

ALABASTER – Alabaster’s under-construction new high school will not open to students in August, as originally planned, the Alabaster City School System announced on May 1.

Instead, the school system will move from its current high school building to the new school during the Christmas break, and students will begin classes at the new high school on Thursday, Jan. 4, 2018. The school system will hold a community open house at the new school before the first day of classes in January.

ACS will complete its other school moves in the summer of 2018, as the system is planning to move Thompson Middle School and the Thompson Sixth Grade Center onto the current Thompson High School campus, and move Thompson Intermediate School into the current Thompson Middle School building. All fall school sports will be housed in their current venues.

Alabaster School Superintendent Dr. Wayne Vickers said the school system recently decided to delay the opening by one semester at the recommendation of the new school’s construction manager, Volkert, and architectural firm, McKee and Associates.

“We wanted to go ahead and announce this so everyone knows the timeline,” Vickers said on May 1. “This gives us an opportunity to move in a timely manner and check all the systems before students arrive.”

Over the past few years, contractors have been working to have the new high school ready for students to begin attending classes at the beginning of the 2017-2018 academic year. However, a delay on bidding the first phase of the project in 2015 affected the timeline, said project engineer Jonathan Grammer with Volkert.

The Alabaster Board of Education originally planned to award a bid for the entire new high school construction project in November 2015, but rejected the bids after they came in higher than expected.

After rejecting the original bid, the School Board broke the project into multiple smaller bids, and gradually awarded them over the past few years.

“If that original bid would have come back a little more competitive, we probably would have had a better shot at opening (the new school) in August,” Grammer said during a May 1 interview. “With construction not getting started until February of 2016, we kind of knew it was going to be aggressive with trying to open in August of this year, but we wanted to try everything we could to still make that happen.

“The contractors have been great, but there’s only so much you can do in a given amount of time,” Grammer added.

Grammer said if students would have begun attending the new high school in August, they would have been sharing the campus with construction crews finalizing projects such as the indoor sports arena and auditorium.

“We thought that would be asking too much of our contractors and the school system,” Grammer said, noting crews likely will be done constructing everything except the outdoor athletic facilities by November. “Our main goal is to get it right and make sure the fit and finish are what we want before the students arrive. If you try to rush it, it can lead to problems down the road. You’ve only got one shot to move in and do it right.”

When it is completed, the new school will have room for more than 2,000 students, will have 103 instructional classrooms – 21 of which will be labs – a 1,070-seat auditorium, an 85-seat theater, a 32,269-square-foot career academy and a 50-seat lecture hall.

The new school’s cafeteria will see a major upgrade from the cafeteria at the current Thompson High School, as the new lunchroom will seat about 600 students at once, up from the 400-seat capacity of the current facility. Vickers said the kitchen will be designed to handle the increased student capacity, as the kitchen at the current school was only designed to serve 800 students.