Council members want consolidated high school in city

Published 3:48 pm Friday, May 31, 2019

LaFAYETTE — Two councilwomen on the LaFayette City Council are concerned that if the Chambers County School District consolidates, LaFayette could be left without a high school in its city limits.

“I am very, very concerned that we may lose the school system to Valley or Cuessta,” LaFayette Councilwoman Tammie Williams said.

There have been a series of meetings in Valley and LaFayette exploring the idea of possible consolidation of the two high schools.

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In late 2018, a survey conducted by educational consulting firm Cooperative Strategies brought back more than 1,600 responses that showed the people of Chambers County are essentially split on the idea of consolidating the high schools. Forty percent said no, 37 percent said yes and 23 percent said they needed more information before deciding.

In April, Greg Ellis of HPM, a firm hired by the school district to survey potential costs and locations, shared the costs and possible areas of a new high school. None of those locations were exact and were referred to as “site zones.”

The first site zone was near exit 70 on Interstate 85 in Cusseta. He said 92 percent of students in Valley and LaFayette would have a travel time of 16 to 20 minutes or less at this site.

The second site looked at moving toward Highway 50 between Valley and LaFayette. Ellis said 83 percent of students would have a travel time of 20 minutes or less.

The third site mentioned would be further east from Highway 50, toward the Huguley neighborhood or just south of Phillips Road off exit 77. Ellis said the number of students with a travel time of 20 minutes or less would be in the upper 80s, and just about 100 percent of students would have a travel time of less than 25 minutes.

The fourth potential site discussed was even further east in the Fredonia area, and again, about 80 percent of students would have less than a 20-minute travel time.

Ellis was asked at that meeting if the district considered any sites closer to LaFayette, and he said the district had not because initial projections showed property in LaFayette did not meet the minimum acreage needed to build a potential high school. Chambers County Superintendent Kelli Hodge said the district would need at least 40 acres at the start to build a campus. She said 40 acres would not account for any future growth.

Williams said Tuesday night that the city of LaFayette needs to be fighting to get any new high school inside its city limits.

“All of the businesses have already left,” she said. “If we lose the school system, there would be no incentive to get anybody to live in LaFayette.”

Williams said LaFayette is the county seat, the Chambers County Board of Education is in LaFayette and the Career Technical building is housed there. She also called for council members to attend board of education meetings and make phone calls to those on the board.

“If we lose the school system, we are going to be going downhill,” she said. “We need to let our voices be known as elected officials to the board of education.”

Williams was backed up by Councilwoman Charlotte Blasingame, who said consolidation wouldn’t be good for LaFayette, especially when it comes to school spirit.

“There is no way you can take the spirit from LaFayette High school and the spirit from Valley High School and combine them together,” she said. “It will take 15 to 20 years to bring back the spirit those schools have.”

She said attending alumni day in LaFayette is one of her favorite events because it shows the love of those who went to the school.

“I’ll do anything I can to keep the school here because I think consolidation would keep people away from LaFayette if the school isn’t here,” she said.

Hodge did not return a request for comment by press time. A decision on consolidation has not been reached by the board of education, nor has there been a call for a vote by the board.

Hodge said at the most recent consolidation forum that consolidation or renovation of existing facilities is contingent on funding, property being available and other factors. She said any new high school, if approved, isn’t something that would open in the fall, adding that it would probably take at least two years of construction from groundbreaking to opening the doors.

“There is no timeline for when I am going to make a recommendation,” Hodge said.