New school gets approved with backlash

By Crystal Cole/ Islander Editor
Posted 9/27/17

A new pleasure island middle school is officially in the works with the Baldwin County Board of Education, but the facility hasn’t been met with all positive responses.

At a recent Orange Beach …

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New school gets approved with backlash

Posted

A new pleasure island middle school is officially in the works with the Baldwin County Board of Education, but the facility hasn’t been met with all positive responses.

At a recent Orange Beach city council meeting, county superintendent Eddie Tyler spoke to the crowd about a proposal to use land donated by the city next to the Sportsplex on Canal Road. The land, valued at more than $5 million, is just a few miles form the current Gulf Shores Middle School campus.

Tyler said in a statement he released Friday that the plan would be to combine the Gulf Shores Elementary and Gulf Shores Middle School buildings, with the middle grades moving to the new middle school, and eliminate the need for portables.

“I didn’t create the overcrowding nor the portables in Gulf Shores, I inherited it,” Tyler said. “I’ve worked hard for the last two years to resolve this because it has weighed extremely heavy on me since my first day as superintendent. Gulf Shores will always be a special place to me because of my time spent as principal of Gulf Shores High School.”

The school is slotted to be for grades 7 and 8, with an infrastructure capable of handling 1,000 students and an initial enrollment of 750.

City of Gulf Shores Mayor Robert Craft released a statement expressing concern about the school and how little he knew about it previously.

“Baldwin County Schools Superintendent Eddie Tyler’s announcement that he will be recommending approval of a significantly altered capital improvement plan for the Gulf Shores High School feeder pattern on Thursday, September 21 was an unexpected surprise to me and the members of our city council,” Craft said. “I was first notified of this altered plan through an email from Mr. Tyler on Tuesday, September 19 at 2:23 p.m. Mr. Tyler and I have always maintained very open dialogue in his time as Superintendent. The complete absence of communication while this plan was being engineered is perplexing.

“Approximately 75 percent of the children attending schools within our feeder pattern live in Gulf Shores. While I am encouraged that the Baldwin County Board of Education now has $15 million available to invest in our feeder pattern, their neglect to incorporate any input or involvement from our community into the development of a plan of this magnitude is extremely disappointing.”

Tyler refuted these claims saying he wanted to make Gulf Shores’ needs a priority, but the city’s movement toward a feasibility study for a city school system froze those plans.

“Heck, I had us all together on a plan that would best benefit children and suddenly without ever conferring with me, I hear that Gulf Shores is exploring forming its own school system, only days after announcing our construction plans, and I’ve heard nothing since,” Tyler said. “Should a city split happen I am responsible for seeing that our children are served in this area, I have to be ready to serve students who are outside Gulf Shores but in the Gulf Shores feeder pattern.”

Angie Swiger, vice president and finance chair for the Baldwin County Board of Education and the island’s representative, said she was disappointed with how little notice she had of the proposal. She said she would have preferred more time to gather community input before public discussion was made.

“Everyone I've spoken to has had great concerns over the traffic congestion on Canal Road and how the current problems will be further exacerbated by adding a school with an additional 420 cars and buses in the morning and afternoon,” Swiger said. “In addition, I’m not certain this is the best approach to solving overcrowding in Gulf Shores, which is where the growth is. My concern is that by the time the new middle school is built, we'll already be trying to determine where to put portables for additional GSES children. My hope is to find a solution that makes OB and GS residents equally happy while taking care of the needs of our children.”

Baldwin County Board of Education President Shannon Cauley said she thought the proposal was innovative and a good use of the system's resources.

"I think this is a great way to solve many of the issues facing the Island feeder pattern," Cauley said. "By utilizing new construction and repurposing existing structures, we can address multiple building needs simultaneously at a fraction of the cost. It's a win-win all around."

The board discussed the measure at its meeting Tuesday night and approved it 5-2, with Angie Swiger and David Tarwater casting the votes against. Tyler said barring weather delays the school would be open August 2019. Despite all the public and private criticism of the school, many on the island are elated with the news.

“We had a referendum three years ago, and our citizens made it clear they wanted us to work with the county,” said Orange Beach Mayor Tony Kennon. “The county reached out to us, and we’ve been working with them very hard on this. It doesn’t get any better than this.”