Public education is clearly the most important economic development activity in a community. Without good public schools, jobs and opportunity do not manifest and people vote with their feet, seeking environments where both children and adults can prosper.
Huntsville City Schools is in the process of a $200 — million construction program involving eight (8) new and two (2) renovated schools. The investment in the neighborhoods in Huntsville in many cases may be the largest investment in history. In this process, Huntsville City Schools is also addressing decades – old inequities, inefficiencies, and infringements. The future is bright for sure.
Consider the new Jemison High School and semi – attached McNair Junior High School located in northwest Huntsville. The facility, a definite change from its predecessor schools in name, location, concept, and quality, involves a $28 — million investment in a community that yearns for investment. With the exception of the massive Toyota engine plant in the area, there has not been as sizeable an investment in the neighborhood in years.
The new schools will address a number of issues with the facilities they replace and also will introduce outstanding solutions to some vexing conditions of the past. Here are four areas: safety and security, technical education, athletic facilities, and technological efficiency.
Regrettably school safety involves far more than crossing guards. These new schools are bastions of safety with four (4) levels of security before visitors can access the facilities. Far more than security cameras and officers, the schools incorporate barrier systems that require positive identification of individual and purpose of visit. The physical design of buildings and classrooms also provide for confinement of risk and escape of students and staff if such is required. On – site tornado shelters, important in our part of the world, are also ample and comfortable.
In times past technical education was relegated to separate facilities across town. Sometimes stigma followed students and the schools may not have been as modern or responsive to current employment needs. Now technical education is on the same hall as academics, both classrooms featuring hallway windows. Through those windows students can see other students computing cyber – security solutions, learning hospital techniques for medical work, practicing on heavy equipment simulators, welding parts that could fly in space, and designing and manufacturing electric vehicles. There shall no longer be any question that technical education is an important option.
Students like athletics, and physical activity is vital for us all. In addition to first – class exterior fields and facilities, the quality of the practice and competition gymnasia is astounding. Junior colleges should have it so well. Also, with fourteen – inch – thick concrete walls, the gymnasia serve as accommodating and safe shelters.
Energy costs go on forever. With buildings as the largest consumer of electricity, Huntsville city Schools is taking steps with high – technology energy solutions for heating, ventilation, and air – conditioning, and lighting to save millions of dollars. In fact, the expected savings from one year’s efficiencies could pay for another gymnasium or really fine auditorium. Speaking of auditoria, those in the Huntsville system are now as fine as anything else in town.
To tour these new schools will leave your jaw on the ground. They are beautiful, visually exciting, obviously highly planned and responsive to the needs of students in learning, and tremendous assets to their communities. In short order we will see significant other, private sector, economic development in these communities. The public sector, through Huntsville City Schools, is leading the way.
Scott McLain, CCIM, is a commercial real estate broker and developer, board member of The Schools Foundation and the A+ Education Foundation, and supporter of public education.