Photo courtesy of Bluff Park Drone
Old Berry drone photo 1
The Hoover Board of Education voted to sell the former Berry High School campus on Columbiana Road to the Vestavia Hills Board of Education on Monday, April 18, 2016.
The Hoover school board on Monday night voted 3-2 to sell the former Berry High School property to the Vestavia Hills school board for $11 million.
Hoover schools Superintendent Kathy Murphy said she evaluated numerous potential uses for the campus off Columbiana Road and determined it would be best to sell it instead.
She considered that location for a third high school, a career technical center and a fine arts center, among other uses, she said.
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 — Hoover and Spain Park, 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.
“I’m out looking. I’m out planning,” she said.
The former Berry High School, which sits on 35 to 40 acres, now is home to Hoover’s Crossroads alternative school and some central office staff, but parts of the buildings remain vacant.
Murphy said both the programs in the Crossroads School — the Second Chance program for students facing disciplinary measures and the New Beginnings program for students in need of a smaller high school setting — can be supported at Hoover and Spain Park high schools.
Students in the Second Chance program whose offenses are criminal in nature can attend school in the afternoons and evenings, while those whose offenses are not criminal in nature will be served during the regular school day, Murphy said.
School board members Jill Ganus Veitch and Stephen Presley voted against the sale to Vestavia Hills.
Ganus Veitch after the meeting said she was not ready to vote on the sale tonight and would have liked to have postponed a decision. She wanted to have a community meeting to give people more of a chance to respond to the idea of selling the facility, she said.
That’s a valuable piece of dirt, and she just 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?”
Stewart Holt, a Berry High School graduate who spoke to the school board Monday night, said it’s financially irresponsible for school board to sell the campus, which he described as a prime piece of land.
Vestavia Hills obviously sees value in the property as a school site, and it would be much easier for Hoover to refurbish it than have to buy land somewhere else and build a brand new school, Holt said.
School board member Earl Cooper noted that Hoover school 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 that will be 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, Derrick Murphy said.
Monday night’s vote was conditional on the Hoover City Council agreeing to de-annex the Berry campus so that Vestavia Hills can annex it. City school systems in Alabama cannot operate schools outside of their city limits.
Vestavia Hills Superintendent Sheila Phillips said last month that Vestavia officials had not determined exactly what type of school the old Berry High School property could become for Vestavia Hills, but they know that Vestavia Hills High School is already at capacity, so they are considering reconfiguring grade levels at some schools to make room for growth.
That potentially could mean having a ninth-grade school or a school that serves grades 7-9, she said. No decisions about that would be made without a lot of research and input from the public, she said.
In addition to spending $11 million to buy the Berry property, Vestavia officials likely would need to spend $20 million to $21 million to renovate the school in phases, Phillips said.
The shell and structure of the building is strong, but some parts are better than others, she said. Because the school dates back to the 1960s and is so traditional in its design, a lot of redesigning may be necessary to meet current needs, Phillips said.