‘We are ready to move forward’: Chambley comments on judge’s written opinion that OK’d consolidated high school in Valley

Published 5:42 pm Tuesday, September 26, 2023

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The Chambers County School District is moving forward with plans to build a consolidated high school in Valley that will open in fall 2026, following a written opinion from U.S. District Judge Keith Watkins issued Friday.

Watkins’ opinion overruled objections from the plaintiffs’ — the Legal Defense Fund and the Department of Justice — and OK’d CCSD to build the new consolidated high school in Valley.  However, the judge did rule that LaFayette High and Valley High will remain open during the construction of the new high school, denying a motion by CCSD that would’ve consolidated high school students onto Valley High’s current campus while the new school is built.

Watkins’ written opinion reaffirmed an order from July, where Watkins had ruled in favor of CCSD. Watkins’ entire written opinion is 65 pages long and available on The Valley Times-News website.

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“We appreciate and understand all the emotions that go into this,” Chambley said. “Now, the process has finished, and the process has gotten us to this point. We are ready to move forward and ready to bring the community together. We are ready to build this new school and give our kids the options and opportunities that they deserve and that they’ve deserved for a long time.”

CCSD has operated under a federal court desegregation order for more than half a century, with little progress made on consolidation since taxpayers rejected a proposal in 1994 that would’ve provided funding.

“This has been going on for superintendents before me. This did not just happen. It came to a head and a crossroads where something had to be done and a decision to be made … We think this is the right [decision].”

The new school will be built on a 74-acre site behind Ram Stadium, with that site selected over a 164-acre site in LaFayette due to numerous reasons, including the transportation of students and the athletic facilities at Ram Stadium. Chambley said many in the community wanted a site on Highway 50, but that never came to fruition due to cost.

LaFayette High School will be renovated and will become a kindergarten through eighth-grade new magnet program. The current Valley High will be renovated to be a middle school.

Chambley reaffirmed his commitment that all staff members will remain employed.

“Nobody is losing their job because of the merger or consolidation. Nobody will lose their job because of that reason. We will find places to those [people.] With teacher shortages the way they are, we need all of them we can get, and we need all the support personnel we can get.”

Chambley said he expects some staffing issues to work themselves out with attrition and retirements.

He reaffirmed the school system will operate on central time by the consolidation takes place, but he said it could happen sooner, just depending on when all parties involved decide to make that decision.

“It’s going to take an effort by the county, the hospital and the cities to come together on when we embark on that and when we actually flip the switch and go,” Chambley said.

He said he expects a schematic design to be finished by the end of October, meaning the public might get its first look at sketches for the new school next month.

He also said the new school name, mascot and colors could be announced next month as well.

“That is pending. We are very close,” Chambley said. “When we release the first schematic designs, we will probably release at the same time the new name.”

Chambley said coming up with the new mascot has been a challenge.

“It’s really cool. The mascot has been really hard,” he said. “The name hasn’t been hard, but the mascot has been really hard.”

The process will go through design and development in November, December and January. And a bidding process will take place next spring. Chambley said he hopes a groundbreaking will be held by late spring or early summer 2024. The building will take 18 to 24 months to construct, meaning a fall 2026 opening date.

Chambley acknowledged the hurt feelings that come with this decision, including some from his own staff.

“When you work in a place for a long time, you become part of that community and that part of your home. You don’t want to move on from those traditions,” Chambley said as his message to CCSD employees upset about the decision. “They are going to have better too. They are going to have better facilities, their schedules are going to be better. We aren’t going to have to function and work on two different time zones. We’re going to work and function on a block schedule.”

The new high school is estimated to have around 900 students.