September 24, 2013 9:58:55 AM
As consolidation committee members turn their attention to forming a unified school district's structure for students, the fate of the county's education building remains an unsettled issue.
The county-owned facility, built in 2011, houses Oktibbeha County School District's administration. Construction plans were developed after the district's former headquarters were damaged after Hurricane Katrina made landfall and worked inland in 2005. Work began on the 8,000-square-foot, almost-$1.6 million facility while the school district rented office in the strip mall that houses Dirt Cheap.
Last week, OCSD Conservator Margie Pulley and Starkville School District Superintendent Lewis Holloway pitched various plans to logistically merge the two systems. Working ideas include bringing high school-age students to Starkville High School, upgrading the county's two elementary schools and constructing a new campus for middle school-age students. Also, Mississippi State University confirmed what many area stakeholders suspected -- the school is interested in a teaching partnership with the unified district -- while committee members also mulled utilizing distance learning in an effort to provide all Oktibbeha County students educational opportunities in a more efficient manner.
But the seven-member Commission on Consolidated Starkville School District Structure never broached the subject of the county education building.
Orlando Trainer, Oktibbeha County Board of Supervisors president and consolidation committee member, confirmed statute requires the county to provide a base of operations for OCSD. How that statute will be applied after the county and city school systems merge in 2015 is unknown, he said. Since the county owns the building, its fate will be decided by Oktibbeha's five supervisors.
"It would be at the board's discretion to determine if it goes with the package or it goes the other direction," Trainer said referencing any future recommendations made by the merger committee and any action taken by the district's incoming board of trustees.
"Everything is on the table. We just have to look at it," he said.
But how could the district utilize the building after consolidation? SSD currently houses its primary administrators in the Greensboro Center, a historic building in which renovations or expansions would have to follow strict guidelines and could prove more costly than other options. The unified school system, Holloway said, could send other administrators or programs to the county education building, but the district has no such plans developed.
By moving offices around, the city school district could open up more space at its minor campuses -- Overstreet School or Emerson Family School, for example -- but this shell game is not expected to create enough free space to alleviate any pressing capacity issues.
If the consolidated school district's incoming board decides to relinquish the building back to supervisors, Trainer said the county should have no trouble filling it with its own administrators.
"There's always a need for space to do county business," he said.
Supervisors could also look at renting out space in the building to help add an additional revenue stream. Since the facility was constructed with Katrina relief money, Trainer said, the county would have to be cautious if it searched for renters.
"It would have to be something more-geared toward public use," he said. "I think that space could be utilized, but selling it? That would be going in an unusual direction."
Along with Trainer, District 1 Supervisor John Montgomery said the consolidation committee should continue to find the best fit for the unified system so the building can continue to serve in some sort of educational capacity.
"I think it's going to be up to them," Montgomery said, alluding to a future recommendation by the committee. "Hopefully the committee can be creative enough to utilize this building to the best of the entire county, whatever that plan may be."
"That building was designed to complement education. As far as I'm concerned, it needs to stay in that particular purview," Trainer added.
The next merger committee meeting is scheduled for 5 p.m. Oct. 3 at the county education building.
Carl Smith covers Starkville and Oktibbeha County for The Dispatch. Follow him on Twitter @StarkDispatch
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