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VOL. 114 | NO. 220 | Thursday, November 09, 2000

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Fox Meadows Elementary gets $6 Facelifts, new schools on tap for Memphis By MARY DANDO The Daily News City taxpayers can take heart that their hard-earned money is going to a good cause creating a 21st century environment for students in the Memphis City Schools. Construction soon will begin on two new schools Craigmont Middle School at 3455 Covington Pike and Ridgeway Middle School at 6333 Quince Road at a cost of $18.7million each. Renovations also are underway at Fox Meadows Elementary School at 2960 Emerald to add an additional 43,000 square feet at a cost of $6.9 million. The two new middle schools and the addition to Fox Meadows are part of Memphis City Schools $800 million capital improvement program, which will continue to be implemented over the next six years. The goal of the program is to improve the school systems facilities in order to meet the districts needs for the next 40 to 50 years, based on analyses of the district in 1994 and 1997 by the University of Memphis. The first stage of the districts capital improvement program includes the replacement or renovation of 26 schools throughout the district. The goal is to correct deficiencies in the school facilities themselves. The Memphis City Schools capital improvement program is a four-part curriculum aimed at bringing city schools up to the standards required for children graduating in the 21st century. David Sojourner, director of the Student Information Division of Memphis City Schools, who also is involved in future planning for schools in the district, said the capital improvement project is about space and technology. "The first two phases focus on our need for more instructional space, the third and fourth phases deal with non-instructional space such as athletic fields, gyms and that sort of thing, as well as technology infrastructure and equity across the district in terms of facilities that are available in each school," he said. The Memphis City Schools is the largest school system in the state of Tennessee and the 20th largest metropolitan school system in the nation. The operating budget for fiscal year 2000-2001 totals $645 million. The state, county, city of Memphis and the federal government fund Memphis City Schools operating budget. According to Memphis City Schools officials, almost 71 percent of the budget goes directly to instruction with less than 3 percent of the budget being spent on administration. Melva C. Williams-Argaw, an architect and coordinator for the Memphis City Schools Office of Facility Planning, is guiding these projects. As a means of ensuring no taxpayer money is being wasted, the school district is using a Facility Standards Prototype as a way of evaluating each school for its infrastructure, square footage and other details based on the number of students. "We have the same prototype for elementary and middle school designs. The same type of spaces and the same amount of spaces, they are identical," Williams-Argaw said. "The reason why we are building the two new schools, Craigmont Middle and Ridgeway Middle, and renovating Fox Meadows Elementary is due to meeting the state mandate for class size reduction and to relieve overcrowding in the schools." The prototypes also guide planners as to how to assess the viability of individual schools. Depending on the state of the building, whether it is in need of air conditioning or may lack the plumbing and wiring necessary to meet the standards, or if the costs of an upgrade nears or exceeds the cost of a completely new building, then the decision to demolish rather than save is made. That is not the case with Fox Meadows Elementary School. Memphis City Schools has applied for a building permit to renovate the existing school building, and to add 43,000 square feet at a cost of $6.9 million. Jameson Gibson Construction is the general contractor for the project. The goal of the second phase is to help the district meet state teacher-to-student ratios that go into effect 2001. "The second step of the capital improvement program, which like all the other phases of the program runs concurrently with the others, is to address class size issues in order to meet the state mandate to relieve overcrowding, and is also to continue the districts implementation of the middle school philosophy," Sojourner said. The middle school philosophy refers to the adoption by Memphis City Schools of the idea of transforming junior high into middle school starting at sixth or seventh grades depending on the school. Craigmont Middle School should be completed by August. It will serve 900 students and will pull students from Craigmont High School. Craigmont already has middle school grade levels at the high school and these students will be transferred to the new middle school. The proposal for the new Craigmont Middle School will consist of a two-story building of about 145,000 square feet. The school will consist of classrooms and an assembly area, with a 750-seat gymnasium, a 1,000-seat auditorium and a cafeteria/dining area. Based on the same plan Ridgeway Middle School should also be completed by August. Both schools will cost $18.7 million each to build and Inman/Beers Joint Venture is the general contractor for both projects. The problem of overcrowding in city schools is a fairly recent one for Memphis City Schools. "One of the major impacts on education in the city of Memphis was the implementation of desegregation in 1973, and for a number of years from 1973 until the late 80s we were faced with a declining student population," Sojourner said. The annexation of Hickory Hill last year brought 5,800 more students into the system and this is a rising trend. "Since 1991, we have been growing at a rate of 800 to 1,000 students per year," Sojourner said. "The city, obviously through the annexations, and through some of the annexations that are planned, are attempting to expand the tax base. And as long as they are doing that then the funding should be available for the schools," he said.

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