Memphis Daily News (June 8, 2018)
Though summer break has started, some of the school-year buzz remained on the campus of Bartlett High School this week as a group of adults gathered with ceremonial shovels for a groundbreaking.
Student-athletes came and went from other parts of the sprawling 26-acre campus that has been home to Bartlett’s only high school for more than a century.
“Now the fun starts,” said Bartlett Schools superintendent David Stephens, as he and other school system and civic leaders broke ground on a two-year, $60 million renovation of the campus.
“We’ve been working on this for over three years,” he said. “What can we do with 26 acres? How can we expand this campus, get it up to modern-day standards, make it safer, make it more accessible?”
Other options, including building from the ground up on other sites in Bartlett, all came with price tags of at least $100 million.
“We’re going to be able to get all of the bells and whistles pretty much that any new school would get,” Stephens said. “But do it in a way that’s much more cost-effective. And there’s a part of us that looks at the west part of Bartlett and this historic section of Bartlett, and this high school has been here for a really, really long time. We wanted that tradition at the same time with moving it into the 21st century.”
The Bartlett renovations are part of a wave of school construction countywide.
The work at Bartlett High, which is being handled by Flintco Construction and Linkous Construction based on plans and design work by Fleming Architects, begins as Collierville is preparing to open its new $90 million high school with a capacity of 3,000 students when the new school year begins in August.
Shelby County Schools officials are about to begin construction on new Goodlett and Alcy Elementary schools. The larger facilities will be built on the sites of the original grade schools, allowing SCS to consolidate and close other elementary schools near both sites.
Lakeland’s new middle prep school just completed its first academic year in use.
Germantown began construction this spring on a new elementary school on Forest Hill-Irene Road south of Poplar Pike. A new administration building for the school system is also part of the $25 million package.
And the charter Crosstown High School is setting up shop in Crosstown Concourse as it prepares to begin its inaugural school year this August.
Bartlett School leaders had also considered building a second high school, but they faced the same consideration Collierville leaders gave to having a single high school in their city.
“Some of our kids went to Bartlett. Some of them went to Arlington. Some of them went to Bolton,” Bartlett Mayor Keith McDonald said of high school attendance zones when the Shelby County Schools system encompassed the county’s six suburban towns and cities along with unincorporated parts of the county.
“As a business owner, I got calls from kids who were going to all three of those high schools,” McDonald said.
That ended in 2013 when Memphis City Schools and Shelby County Schools merged, followed a year later by each of the six suburbs splitting from the consolidated system and forming its own school district.
“You stop that division by having the children going to public schools going to this public school,” McDonald said. “The expectation being if I am going to do some advertising or investing in my high school, it’s going to be Bartlett High School. Even in the business community, they are thankful to just get one request as opposed to two or three.”
The renovation work begins with the school auditorium – the oldest part of the campus dating back to the school’s 1917 origins.
Stephens says the summer break is important for getting work done that might become more difficult during the school year.
“We are going to be doing this while school is going on. The summer is extremely important,” he said. “So they are hitting the ground running. There’s been a lot of planning this year on how we are going to phase this while keeping students safe, keeping classrooms going but keeping the work moving forward.”
McDonald said the technological upgrade is central to the renovations and reconfiguration of the Bartlett High campus for today’s students, who often have expectations about the use of technology in learning.
McDonald says the difference in expectations was apparent during a play in the auditorium during the school year.
“The sound equipment didn’t work right – the lighting. The kids did a wonderful job with what they had to work with,” he said.
The Bartlett High band room has already been upgraded as the high school sees an uptick in band students.
“Back when we had 40 or 50 kids in the band when the three high schools were taking Bartlett kids to now having about 240 kids in band, it came just at the right time,” McDonald said. “That band program is really ramping up. I think there’s probably more band scholarships then there are football scholarships.”