Anniston City school board members did not vote on the matter during their Saturday work session, they did come to a general consensus on how they wanted to proceed.
Specifically, they said they favored closing the middle school and selling the property to the city, expanding Cobb Elementary in west Anniston to house all seventh- and eighth-graders and dispersing all sixth graders among the city's four other elementary schools. The preliminary plan would address the problems associated with shrinking enrollment while providing the city with prime retail development real estate.
The board also agreed to meet with the Anniston City Council tentatively during its next board meeting May 7 or the council's next meeting May 14 to further discuss the plan. The board will then officially vote on a final restructuring plan at a later meeting.
Anniston school Superintendent Joan Frazier and all board members were present at the work session except for William Robison. However, Robison had prepared a letter for his fellow members, saying he too supported closing the middle school and expanding Cobb Elementary to house seventh- and eighth-graders.
Each board member present said they liked the idea of expanding Cobb as a way to improve the surrounding community.
"It's important we have a school in the west side of Anniston," said Donna Ross, president of the school board. "It will enhance the community and hopefully bring business there."
Board member C.K. Huguley also expressed her support of west Anniston.
The idea of restructuring the school system has been on the minds of city leaders for some time as a way to save taxpayer money. As the student population has shrunk considerably the last 20 years, the need for all of the city's schools has waned. The previous school board toyed with the restructuring idea for years — going so far as to commission Montgomery-based archetectural firm McKee and Associates to design preliminary plans on expanding certain schools to house more students so that others could be closed. However, the previous board eventually decided to punt all decisions on the restructuring issue to the current board.
The firm's proposed Cobb expansion plan, which the board reviewed Saturday, would cost approximately $8.7 million and includes significant renovations and the construction of a new gym and cafeteria. Adding the city's seventh- and eighth-graders to Cobb would increase the school's enrollment to around 400 students.
Meanwhile, the city council has expressed strong interest in obtaining the middle school property, considering it a prime location for tax revenue-generating retail development once the nearby Veterans Memorial Parkway is completed.
Board member Mary Klinefelter was strongly supportive of working with the city on the middle school issue.
"I'm more than willing to sell it," Klinefelter said of the middle school property. "We want a spirit of cooperation with the city."
Frazier agreed with the rest of the board regarding the middle school.
"I do support closure of Anniston Middle School and moving to a central location," Fraizer said.
Board member William Hutchings said he supported keeping the city's other four elementary schools open for the time being and dispersing the middle school's sixth graders among them.
"Then we could gradually get into this idea of closing some based on academics and population," Hutchings said.
The other board members and Frazier also agreed that the other four elementary schools should probably remain open for at least the next few years. Dispersing the entire sixth-grade population equally among the four elementary schools would only increase their total enrollment to a little more than 300 students each — a very manageable amount, Frazier said.
"It's not the most financially aggressive, but it may be the most doable in our foreseeable future," Frazier said of keeping the four schools open.
Staff writer Patrick McCreless: 256-235-3561. On Twitter @PMcCreless_Star.