Photo courtesy of Bluff Park Drone.
The Hoover school board voted 3-2 to sell the former Berry High School campus off Columbiana Road to the Vestavia Hills Board of Education.
The Hoover school board’s decision to sell the former Berry High School campus to Vestavia Hills was met with disdain in some circles and applause in others.
Some residents who attended or taught at Berry High School hate to see the city of Hoover lose that piece of history to another city and are hopeful they can persuade Vestavia Hills to keep key portions of the facility intact.
Amy Calvert was in the last graduating class of Berry High School in 1994, but for her, it’s not the memories and emotional ties that make her dislike the sale so much. To her, it’s a poor financial and planning decision when Hoover will need more schools to handle future growth.
If Vestavia Hills can pay $11 million for the property and put another $20 million into renovations to make it a good school, Hoover should be able to do the same for less than it would cost to buy land and build a brand-new school somewhere else, Calvert said.
Plus, there have been many alternative educational uses suggested for the old Berry campus, and she doesn’t believe school officials did enough research to explore those alternatives. Meanwhile, Hoover is growing too fast, and schools are getting overcrowded, she said.
From the school board to the City Council, “the shortsightedness of people in charge of the city of Hoover is now coming back to smack us all in the face,” Calvert said.
Even school board members were divided about the sale of the old Berry campus. The April 18 vote was split 3-2, with board members Derrick Murphy, Earl Cooper and Craig Kelley voting in favor of the sale and Jill Ganus Veitch and Stephen Presley voting against it.
Ganus Veitch said she was not ready to vote on the sale that night and wanted to postpone a decision. She wanted a community meeting to give people more of a chance to respond, she said.
That’s a valuable piece of dirt, and she wasn’t comfortable selling it when the Hoover system likely is going to need a place for a third high school or another middle school, she said.
“At community and rezoning meetings, people stood up and applauded when they mentioned a third high school,” Ganus Veitch said. “If we’re going to build a third high school, where are we looking to build it?”
School board member Earl Cooper said Hoover officials have been looking for the best use of the old Berry campus and considering selling it for a decade. “At some point, we either need to fish or cut bait,” Cooper said.
Vestavia Hills has a good offer on the table, but their school board has a timetable to meet and needs a decision, Cooper said. It’s not really a good site for a commercial venture, and Vestavia Hills is probably the only school district interested in it, he said.
If the Hoover system doesn’t accept this offer, “we’re about to be stuck with a liability, not an asset,” he said.
Cooper said he understands the emotional attachment that some people have to the old Berry campus, but it’s time to move on.
School board President Derrick Murphy said it was a tough decision because the campus means so much to so many people in Hoover, but this is a great opportunity to sell the property and get a good return for it.
The school system is dealing with budget deficits and having to make cuts and leave teaching positions unfilled to save money, and selling the old Berry campus will provide some money to help make sure the Hoover system is in a good position in years to come, Murphy said.
Superintendent Kathy Murphy said she evaluated numerous potential uses for the campus, but the cost of renovating the facility to bring it up to code and make it useful for Hoover would be significant, Murphy said. And as a third high school, it would pale significantly in comparison to Hoover’s current two high schools, she said.
“Who’s going to raise their hand and say I want my kid to go there?” Murphy said.
Plus, the school is on the far edge of Hoover and almost surrounded by the city of Vestavia Hills, Murphy said. The Vestavia Hills school board made a fair and reasonable offer, and Hoover can take that money and use it for another school site that better suits Hoover’s needs, she said.