Daily News (April 2, 2017)
A four-word phrase that appeared on a Power Point presentation at Bartlett High School last week was when the audience of 500 people appeared to buy into a $60 million plan to reconfigure the high school campus over the next three to four years.
“The site is tight” was part of a slideshow on the auditorium screen Thursday, March 30, as Scott Fleming, principal of Fleming Architects, outlined two years of work by his firm for Bartlett City Schools.
It is a reference to the 26-acre campus’ scattering of parking spaces located among various buildings that have gone up between 1917 and 1978. But it could have referred to the buildings themselves.
Fleming and his firm explored the idea of buying land elsewhere in Bartlett to start all over.
“That would be simpler from a constructability standpoint. But you’d have to find the property and you’d need over 100 acres to do it right,” Fleming said. And that would be difficult in Bartlett.
At one point in the study, Fleming had identified nearby acreage belonging to Raleigh United Methodist Church, but the congregation decided on other uses for its land.
Another drawback was that if Bartlett High moved and/or the Bartlett 9th Grade Academy at the old Shadowlawn Middle School building moved, those properties – in each case – would revert back to Shelby County Schools
The proposal for a grades 10-12 reconfigured campus comes in the third school year of the Bartlett City Schools system, which is one of six suburban school systems formed in the towns and cities outside Memphis after a one-year merger of all public education in Shelby County.
Bartlett High currently has 1,870 students in grades 10-12. It was built with a capacity for 2,205 students in grades 9-12.
The $60 million estimated cost compares to $100 million to $120 million for four other options considered by Fleming.
After decades of adding parts to the campus, Fleming and his team said the school is overdue for a comprehensive remake to meet new needs for today’s schools and give the school a focal point instead of being a collection of different buildings.
“This is a path that takes the school into a new generation,” Fleming added.
The presentation included a campus map with dozens of red dots at the various entry points into buildings on the campus, which he and others said presents a campus safety issue that the proposal would eliminate with a central and identifiable access point.
“We’re going to take down the vo-tech building. We are going to take down the band building,” Fleming said. “Then there’s a portable, pre-engineered building on the east end of campus – a classroom building – that comes down as well. Those come down along with this 100-year-old auditorium, which really will become the central core of the campus.”
New buildings would be built where those three structures now stand
“The core functions are what really needs to be built on this campus,” he said. “That includes the kitchen-cafeteria, which is outdated now and too small currently. A new gymnasium that seats 2,500 students… and then a 1,000-seat auditorium which is twice the seating of this current auditorium. Those three spaces we need, along with 17 new academic classrooms.”
In the process, a sports practice field would be converted into more and better configured parking.
“We’re losing one of the two practice fields. But to pick up that space, we are going to sports turf the existing football field so you can play on that all year round, and it’s more durable,” Fleming said. “We’re also getting the parking out of the middle of the campus and replacing those with courtyards and green spaces to allow natural light into the buildings, which we think is important.”
Bartlett is the fourth of the six suburban governments and school systems to explore building new schools.
Fleming is working on the $92 million Collierville High School under construction that will have a capacity of up to 3,000 students. Lakeland’s school system is currently building Lakeland Middle Preparatory School. And the Germantown Municipal School District board votes Wednesday, April 5, on a site at Poplar Pike and Forest Hill-Irene Road for a new middle school for 750 students.
Bartlett Mayor Keith McDonald says competition is part of the move to a new Bartlett High.
“They come here for the schools. They stay here because it’s clean and safe. And we believe that’s very important,” McDonald said. “For us to compete for the best jobs and the families to fill those jobs we have to have a great school system. If we don’t, they will take those someplace else. We’re not just a bedroom community. We are a full-service community including industrial development.”
Part of financing the school project includes a 14-cent hike in Bartlett’s property tax rate. McDonald intends to propose a 35-cent property tax hike overall, with the remainder of the revenue going to hire six new police officers and buy another ambulance for the fire department.
The school project and that tax hike are tentative at this point, with a town hall meeting to come in April on the school project and public hearings on McDonald’s budget proposal.
“Not everybody’s going to be excited. Who wants to pay more property tax? We haven’t had a property tax increase in 10 years,” McDonald said. “We do this because people now buy off the internet. We had sales tax revenue growing at 8 and 10 percent for a number of years. We now get 3 to 5 percent. Where we used to could lean a lot on sales tax revenue growth, we can no longer do that.”