Photo by Jon Anderson
Old Berry High School Nov 2015 (3)
The former Berry High School campus on Columbiana Road now is home to the Hoover school system's Crossroads alternative school and offices for some central office personnel.
The Vestavia Hills Board of Education has offered to pay the Hoover school board $11 million for the former Berry High School campus on Columbiana Road.
And the Vestavia Hills City Council has scheduled a special meeting for 5 p.m. Monday to discuss contributing $2 million toward that purchase amount.
The Vestavia Hills school board’s vote came Wednesday, with Vestavia school officials saying they have long been interested in the former Berry High School property, which is nearly surrounded by the city limits of Vestavia Hills.
Vestavia Hills Superintendent Sheila Phillips said school officials there know that Vestavia Hills High School is already at capacity, so officials are considering reconfiguring the 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.
But acquiring an additional school property could help with that effort, Phillips said.
The former Berry High School property sits on 35-40 acres, and some of the land is undeveloped.
“To me, it would be exciting even to think about the development of that over the course of several years and even expanding the facility itself, particularly the athletic fields and those kinds of things because we know that is an issue for us and our city,” Phillips 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.
The district is considering issuing warrants to refinance $19 million of existing debt and borrow another $54 million for various projects throughout the district, Finance Director Greg Maner said.
Currently, there is $20 million in that capital project plan for a project that would not be needed if the Vestavia Hills school system were able to purchase Berry, Maner said. With $9 million of school district money going toward the purchase of the Berry property, that would leave $11 million available for the first phase of renovations, he said.
The school district has additional borrowing capacity to come up with the other $10 million, Maner said. Plus, property tax proceeds are growing, which would put the system in an even better position financially, he said.
However, Patrick Boone, an attorney for the Vestavia Hills school board, said any purchase of the Berry property would be contingent on the Hoover City Council agreeing to de-annex the school property from Hoover so it could be annexed into Vestavia Hills. State law does not allow school systems to operate a school outside their city limits, Boone said.
The Vestavia Hills City Council will hold a public hearing Monday about whether to contribute $2 million toward the purchase of the school before taking a vote. That meeting will be at Vestavia Hills City Hall. For more information, contact the Vestavia Hills city clerk’s office at 978-0131.
See the complete video of Wednesday's meeting of the Vestavia Hills Board of Education. The purchase of the former Berry High School was the only item on the agenda.
Emily Featherston contributed to this article.