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Photo by Jon Anderson
Old Berry High School Nov 2015 (4)
The former Berry High School campus on Columbiana Road now houses the Hoover school system's Crossroads alternative school and offices for some Hoover City Schools central office personnel.
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Vestavia Hills City Council member John Henley discusses the Board of Education's purchase of the old Berry High School campus at the March 21 Vestavia Hills City Council.
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Vestavia Hills resident David Harwell speaks at the March 21 Vestavia Hills City Council.
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Vestavia Hills Superintendent Sheila Phillips discusses the Board of Education's purchase of the old Berry High School campus at the March 21 Vestavia Hills City Council.
The Vestavia Hills City Council tonight voted to contribute $2 million to help the Vestavia Hills school board with an $11 million offer for the old Berry High School campus.
The Vestavia Hills Board of Education voted Wednesday, March 16, to offer the Hoover school board $11 million for the campus, which sits on 35-40 acres off Columbiana Road. The city, which is interested in using the athletic facilities there, decided to chip in.
Prior to the vote, Councilman John Henley noted that Vestavia Hills lacks adequate fields for recreational activities and sports. Berry High School’s campus has multiple facilities that have been utilized in the past.
“I think this is a great thing to move forward with, and I think it would be a great asset to our community moving forward," Henley said.
Councilman George Pierce asked how community field use or sharing the facilities would be handled because the school board will own the property. Mayor Butch Zaragoza said the city would have written guidelines, as it does with current school properties.
“If the process goes through, we will have some written agreements,” Zaragoza said.
Attorney Patrick Boone said there were contingencies outlined in the contract, noting the need for the city of Hoover to de-annex the property and Vestavia Hills to annex the property into the city. This contingency stems from a state requirement that a school board can operate a school only if it is within its corporate limits.
The other contingency is the board has 90 days to exit the contract. If the price is too high, an unforeseen problem is discovered with the property or if the board changes its mind, it is not obligated to purchase the property.
Superintendent Sheila Phillips thanked the council for considering contributing toward the purchase.
Henley later noted an architect’s estimate for building the same facilities currently on Berry’s campus would cost around $40. He also noted that there are plans to upgrade or add onto the facilities at Berry, and that renovation has been estimated to be around $20 million or $21 million.
There are two gyms on the campus, Phillips noted, and one of those gyms would not be usable.
“I can tell you with the gym that is in bad shape — I was in the first class of Berry High School, and that gym was there then,” Zaragoza said.
Multiple council members said they were glad the city was in a position to consider helping the school board.
“The fact that we can partner up with the school board through the city, serving our citizens better with both education and athletic fields, I think is a major step,” Pierce said.
David Harwell, a Vestavia Hills resident, said he was concerned that the price tag on the old Berry High School campus was too high. He supported purchasing the property but noted he found an assessment of the property for $4 million. He also asked why the city was considering incurring more debt, rather than working to pay down debt.
City Clerk Rebecca Leavings noted she found an assessment valuing the land around $3 million, but that value did not factor in the structures or improvements on the campus.
Councilman Jim Sharp left the room during discussion and did not return until after the vote. All other council members and Zaragoza voted to support the $2 million payment.
The council also considered a resolution regarding the city’s structuring of debts. Financial adviser Chris Williams told the council the city would not increase its debt service by refinancing for the $2 million, and the change would not have a negative impact on the city’s AA+ rating.
The council unanimously approved the resolution to approve the structure and offering of general obligation warrants.