Gulf Shores announces plan to build combination high school, community college

By Sally Pearsall Ericson

GULF SHORES, Alabama -- City officials have a plan in the works to create a combination high school and community college campus on city-owned property at the corner of County Road 8 and the Foley Beach Express.

The idea is to alleviate the crowded Gulf Shores schools and build a new type of high school that would include an additional Faulkner State Community College campus and the ability to partner with four-year universities within the state to offer dual enrollment degree programs.

The joint campus would come together as a collaborative effort from the city, the Baldwin County school board, Faulkner State and the four-year universities, said Gulf Shores Mayor Robert Craft.

Orange Beach officials have been exploring the idea of forming their own, city-run school system, but if that doesn’t come to pass, the new high school could be a good solution to the crowded schools in Orange Beach, as well, Craft said.

“What we’re doing is very similar to what Orange Beach is doing: Pursuing what we think is the best course of action to provide the highest level of quality education we can to the students in our community,” Craft said. “They’re trying to create a better system; we’re trying to help our system become better.

“We want the best quality education we can get for our kids. We think this combination of a high school, a community college and a four-year program -- if we can make that work, it will be trend-setting.”

In theory, the point of a high school sharing the space with a community college would be to expose the students to a larger number of post-graduation options, from a two-year degree and learning a trade to being better prepared for a four-year university career, he said.

Also, the innovative, academic campus will provide students “with a direct and affordable path” to a college degree or vocational career, Craft said.

City officials have already had “great discussions” with University of Alabama and with Faulkner State officials, he said, and officials at Auburn University and at the University of South Alabama have shown a high degree of interest in the project as well.

“We think that we’ve got a model that makes sense,” he said. “It’s stepping outside of the box, so to speak; it positions us to where we can create, I think, an ideal environment for the high school kids.”

Craft, who has discussed the plan with Orange Beach Mayor Tony Kennon, also said that the plan is designed to accommodate Orange Beach high school students, but if the city decides to separate from the Baldwin County school system, the plan can be retooled as a smaller high school.

“We both agree that we’re trying to make education better; we both understand that we’ve got different ways of pursuing it,” Craft said. “We’re pursuing the same goal -- we’re just doing it a different way.”

Gulf Shores officials made the announcement about the new school on Monday in a media release that included endorsements from Alan Lee, Baldwin County schools superintendent; Gary Branch, president of Faulkner State Community College; and Milla Boschung, dean of the University of Alabama College of Human Environmental Sciences.

"The City of Gulf Shores’ proposed multi-entity education campus is truly visionary, and likely does not exist anywhere else in the United States,” Lee said in the statement. “Baldwin County's School Board is in the process of holding community meetings in preparation to making plans for new facilities, and this proposal will have my full support when it is time to make facility recommendations to the board. It is a creative way to enhance opportunities for our children."

Under the proposal, the new school would be built at County Road 8 on the Foley Beach Express on city-owned property, Craft said. It’s the same tract of land where the BP cleanup crews had their staging area, he said.

Gulf Shores Middle School would move into the existing high school building, and the elementary school would expand into the middle school.

If that’s all arranged, it should help solve ongoing problems with high traffic and crowded classrooms, particularly at the elementary school, Craft said.

“Not only would it solve the overcrowding, but it will allow for future growth potential, and it will move the high school students away from that consolidated area,” he said, adding that it was less than desirable to have all three schools on the same campus in any case.

Gulf Shores officials will set up public meetings in the coming weeks to solicit feedback on the plan, said Grant Brown, the city’s public information officer. “There’s a lot of work left to be done,” he said. “… The plan is to have additional meetings to gather public input in this process.”

The new school is one piece of a much larger vision for the future of Gulf Shores, Craft said – a strategic plan that city leaders have been working on since the fall of 2012. The decision was made to announce the new school first, he said, in order to give the universities and other potential partners a chance to get on board.

“We’re a little ahead of the total plan, but over the next several months, we’ll be introducing a very comprehensive plan to detail the future of Gulf Shores, solving some of our problems and detailing some solutions,” he said.

The 2010 oil spill helped city and community leaders realize, he said, that “every asset that we have here in Gulf Shore is on the beach.” Since then, the focus has been on developing other assets, such as the Waterway Village Overlay District, he said, “so that when we have a storm or another event, we’re not completely shut down.”

Education is one of those components, and that’s why the plan includes the combination high school and community college campus, Craft said. “It’s part of a much bigger story.”

 

Article from AL.com

 

 

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