MADISON, AL (WAFF) - Madison is taking some big steps to plan for the future and address concerns about growth, including overcrowding in schools. Officials are seeking input from the public as they work to shape the expanding city.
Mayor Paul Finley and School Superintendent Robby Parker are hosting two upcoming community meetings to discuss how growth will impact the city and listen to public feedback.
The first one is Tuesday night.
New jobs and good schools have made Madison a place many families want to live, spurring lots of growth.
"We're going to grow to the size of 60-80,000. The size that we get to dictates how many schools we need for the citizens and children that are here. it's great to have growth, and in turn, we have to manage for that," Mayor Finley said. "We can't keep going at the pace we have, but we also have to have funding structures in place to support the infrastructure that's needed."
Recently, the Madison Schools Growth Impact Committee presented research to the city council and school board members, as well as the mayor and superintendent. The research revealed that under the current growth trajectory, new middle and elementary schools are needed as well as expansion to Bob Jones and James Clemens high schools, or a third high school within the Madison City Schools system.
"The mayor and I, along with our board of education, formed a growth committee about six months ago and they've met and diligently put together data. The question to us was this: What's it going to take with all of the growth that we have in our city, to keep our schools as strong as they are now," Superintendent Parker said.
"We know for sure that we're going to need to build another middle school within three to four years. We know for sure within a ten year period, that we're going to have to build another elementary school and we're either going to have to build on to the two high schools by adding 1000 plus students, 500 at both James Clemons and Bob Jones, or adding a third high school. We know that's at a minimum," he added.
The Growth Impact Committee reported three possible cases for growth and how those outcomes could influence the city. Case 1 would halt growth with slight overcrowding, while Case 2 would control growth but the school system could face significant overcrowding without the additional facilities and space. Case 3 would allow for unrestricted growth and the potential for massive overcrowding.
The study also cites new jobs in the region driving the growth in the city.
While the school system is an attractive feature to families moving to the area, officials agreed that keeping the high quality education in Madison City is a top priority, Parker said. He stressed the need to be proactive.
"It takes a long time to go from vision to moving the dirt. Before that, drawing the plans to getting board approved to finding the financial resources. These things don't happen in a day. It takes years to get it done," he added.
A big question local leaders will be posing to residents is if they want to add on to the two existing high schools, making them mega schools, or build a third one.
"Right now, James Clemons and Bob Jones are both in the top ten in the city. If we add on another 500 students, we'll have two of the top five high schools in the state as far as size goes. Even with a third high school, we're going to be three large 7A high schools with about 1700 students in each one. If not, we'll have 2500-3000 in two very large high schools. Both are very doable, but we want to hear what our community thinks," Parker explained.
The first meeting will be this Tuesday, April 10th, at 6:30 pm at Bob Jones High School. If you miss that one, the next is Sunday, April 22nd, at 3 pm at James Clemens High School.
"There's going to be a balance in managing growth. We as a city council and mayor, have to manage that and the schools have to plan for it, with the educational programs they put in place and the buildings that are needed. So we'll work collaboratively with our school systems work together to solve the problem but we also want to hear our community talk about what they feel are the best areas and issues for them," Mayor Finley stated.
"As a Madison resident, I'm just like everyone else. I want to know a plan and I want to feel like we understand where we're headed and how we're going to get there. We'll come together with a plan our citizens can count on and then go try to make those types of things that need to occur for success happen," he added.
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