What to do with Altha School has been debated for years. The old main building has been deemed unsuitable for students. Portable classrooms are unsafe during severe weather. When the proposal to consolidate Altha and Blountstown’s high schools was shot down, leaders went back to the drawing board.
During a special workshop Tuesday, former Altha Principal Ronnie Hand, who is now overseeing construction of the new Blountstown High School, proposed a plan that seemed to get nods of approval from everyone at the table.
Hand went over the history of building schools in Calhoun County and noted that special facilities funding, being used to pay for the new BHS, came about in 1982, but Calhoun County leaders never went after it until the current project because they didn’t want to levy the 2 mills required. “We didn’t want to pay the taxes,” he remarked. “We didn’t participate because we had comfortable schools and our kids were performing at the top.”
But Hand pointed out those were much simpler times when a Selectric typewriter was the most expensive piece of equipment students would use in the classroom.
“Our students still perform well, but we do have a weak link at the high school level,” Hand noted. “That’s a direct reflection of not being exposed to technology and not being able to travel.”
Hand said the state inspected Altha School and recommended the pre-k through 12th grade campus be converted to pre-k through 8th (that’s where the consolidation proposal came in), the gym be renovated, and the main building be used only for administration. “That’s what the state will pay for,” Hand explained.
With that said, Hand said there is still a chance to get a new school in Altha for pre-k through 12th which he estimates will cost between $11 and $13 million. Around $2 million of funds from the state was paid to the school district following contamination cleanup from old fuel tanks once buried underground on the Altha campus. That would be seed money for the project, Hand suggested, along with seeking a legislative appropriation for the rest of the money needed. “The economy is tight, and if it stays down, it’s not likely that would happen,” said Hand, adding that it wouldn’t hurt to try.
Should that plan fall through, he suggested going after the special facilities funding once the BHS project is complete.
Hand’s proposal was discussed with enthusiasm by the board, but will not be voted on until a regular meeting. Board members did not have a firm date when the issue would be on the agenda.
With the construction of the new BHS, this will make 2 new BHS's that have been built in the last 20+ years. All the while knowing that Altha has needed a new school for years, as has BMS. Altha's main school building was being held together with cables many, many years ago; there were gaps between the floors and exterior walls upstairs. It is past time that Altha receive a new school. But, yet once again, they will have to wait for Blountstown's to be built. I hope that the board decided to build a building this time that could be grown into or expanded upon and not worry about the architectural detail like was done last time.
There is plenty room in Altha to build an appropriate size building to house K-12. The school should have thought things through before building strips of classrooms for the elementary in Altha before. Had they done so, they would have an acceptable building today for those grades at least.