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Lowndes County Eyes Centralized Vocational School

Board members Jacqueline Gray, Bobby Barksdale and Brian Clark (left to right).

At their October 12 meeting, the Lowndes County School Board gave JBHM architect Joey Henderson permission to further explore building a single, centralized vocational complex.

[Once upon a time the county had a centralized vocational complex. The vocational programs were scattered to the three campuses in the 1990s, and the old vo-tech school was renovated and is currently West Lowndes High School. – Brian Jones]

Henderson gave a brief presentation about the district’s vocational-technical needs, but could only speak generally due to the fact that the board has made no concrete decisions about the type or number of programs that would be offered.
Both District 4 Supervisor Jeff Smith and District 5 Supervisor Leroy Brooks, as well as Crawford Mayor Jimmy Sanders, were present for Henderson’s presentation. All three left after it was over.

“Currently [vo-tech] classes are divided up over the three campuses,” Henderson said. “A while back we gave you a list of possibilities for programs, as well as programs provided by the state or at East Mississippi Community College. We also did a survey of students in grades seven, eight and nine. We asked them their interest in these particular programs. [The programs included agriscience; Allied Health; collision repair; auto mechanics; business fundamentals; career pathway experience; construction/carpentry; cosmetology; culinary arts; drafting and design; early childhood education; electrical; engineering and robotics; law enforcement; masonry; and welding. When Mr. Henderson presented the results, they were listed in alphabetical order. He didn’t mention which programs were most popular, which struck me as peculiar given that it was an interest survey. He only said these programs were the top 16 selections. – Brian Jones] We asked them if they would be willing to leave their campus to take the courses. About 1048 responded to the survey, and 994 said yes, they would go to a central location.

“When we did a budget analysis, we projected a cost of $15 million,” Henderson said. “We included construction, land and soft costs. The construction cost is right at $13 million. We looked at a project that is going on in Tuscaloosa right now. If we could do it at $200 per square foot, that would give us around 63,750 square feet. Square footage is something that we don’t know because you haven’t decided on the particular programs. But your existing facilities on the three campuses total about 35,000 or 40,000 square feet. We can almost double that size right now if we build one facility. This is very preliminary, however.

“We also looked real quickly at location,” Henderson said. “It’s not based on as the crow flies from each campus, it’s based on the roads and how long it would take to get a bus onto 82 or wherever and to a particular campus.” [No specific locations were mentioned or discussed. – Brian Jones]

“What we’re looking at is a career education technology education center,” Henderson said. “It’s not the vo-tech that your daddy had. We need to provide a real-life context for our students, and we need to open up ways we can cooperate between the disciplines. The environment needs to be authentic and interdisciplinary. For example, there is a program in Texas where they had an agricultural segment that would grow vegetables, which would be sent to the culinary program, which would use them to cook. Once a year they would have a whodunit exercise where somebody ate some bad food and died. The video class would video all of this and take it to their legal program, where they would have a mock trial. The community would come in and watch that. There was a real mix of interdisciplinary studies, and they presented that to the community. Like I said, this is not the vo-tech of yesteryear.”

Henderson asked for permission to further evaluate the surveys and how they would impact the program selection.
“We’ll probably go back and have another survey,” he said. “We want to make sure the students realize what these disciplines are. Then we can start to program what programs we need, and what space we need, which will give us a square footage. Then we can see whether the budget needs to go up or come down. We also need to evaluate sites. We’ve done some preliminary looking, but we need to take it further and actually see what’s out there and what’s available and what the potential cost is. We also need to evaluate funding and funding sources.”

The board voted unanimously to allow Henderson to go forward with planning. [Trustee Jane Kilgore was not at the meeting. – Brian Jones] “I’m glad to see the county officials here, so maybe we can get that $15 million from them,” joked President Bobby Barksdale.
“You want a check or cash?” Brooks quipped.

In other business, the board heard presentations from principals at Caledonia High School, New Hope High School, West Lowndes High School and West Lowndes Middle School about their plans to address weak test scores.

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