Opinion

Upgrade of school facilities is needed

Sunday, January 23, 2005

We've long awaited the announcement by the Sikeston Public Schools on a plan to ask voter approval to upgrade and expand our classroom facilities. That announcement came this week. It's an ambitious plan that would first address needs at the Senior High School with the addition of a math and science complex along with classrooms to house the freshman class. Once completed, students from the fifth grade through high school would be reassigned and in some cases, relocated to take full advantage of our existing classroom space.

Plans for a massive school improvement project have been in the works for years. Lee Hunter and Matthews elementary schools are both 50 years old and beginning to show signs of age. In reality, those two schools, along with the high school, have shown their age for quite some time.

The initial plan was ambitious to say the least. It would have involved the construction of an elementary complex to house all classes from kindergarten to the fourth grade. Matthews and Lee Hunter would have been closed and razed. But that idea was seen as too costly at this point, though in the long run, a similar plan will eventually go before the voters.

What was approved and what will go to the voters is the down-sized improvement that addresses the substantial needs of the high school. That facility, by way of background, is nearly 50 years old as well. It is painfully obvious that improvements are needed at our high school. But they will come at a cost. That cost however is minimal compared to the improvements it will promise.

Once the project is approved and then completed, the school system will revamp student assignments to take advantage of the existing facilities. For example, fifth and sixth graders will be housed in what is currently the Junior High School. That school is much smaller and would better house those two smaller grades. Seventh and eighth grade students would take over what is now the Middle School, again to take advantage of the larger facility that more closely matches those class sizes. And the freshman class would be relocated to the High School, as they are in many other schools and as they once were here.

As part of that plan, the alternative school would be moved to the Southwest facility that is currently the fifth grade learning center. Bailey building would be abandoned as part of the plan.

The price tag for this first phase of our building program would come in around $5 million for the math and science complex and freshman classrooms. That's a pretty minimal impact on taxpayers, especially given the needs of the school system.

The foundation of a community is in many ways the school system provided by the taxpayers. Our physical facilities are beginning to show signs of age. That is unacceptable to newcomers, for our current students and for future students. The plan unveiled this week is an excellent first step.

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