Photo by Jon Anderson
Old Berry High School Nov 2015
The former Berry High School campus on Columbiana Road now is home to Hoover's Crossroads alternative school and some central office personnel.
The Vestavia Hills school system has expressed interest once again in buying the former Berry High School property from Hoover City Schools, Hoover Superintendent Kathy Murphy said Monday night.
Additionally, U.S. Steel is offering to sell Hoover City Schools about 136 acres along Interstate 459 that currently is zoned for apartments.
Murphy shared both potential transactions with the Hoover school board Monday night but said talks are in the very preliminary stages and she is not ready to recommend any action by the board.
Vestavia Hills Superintendent Sheila Phillips walked with Murphy through the old Berry High School property on Columbiana Road recently and has expressed an interest in continuing conversations regarding buying the property, Murphy said.
Vestavia Hills has not made an offer for a particular amount of money, “but I would anticipate that Vestavia may be coming forth fairly immediately with an offer in hand,” Murphy said. “At that time, we’ll continue our conversations.”
The former Berry High School property was converted into a middle school after Hoover High School was built, but Berry Middle School relocated next to Spain Park High School, and the 35-acre campus on Columbiana Road has been used for a variety of purposes since that time.
Photo by Jon Anderson
Old Berry High School Nov 2015 (2)
The sign along Columbiana Road at the former Berry High School campus gives no indication of the school's current use as the Crossroads alternative school and office space for central office personnel, but other signs on the school buildings themselves do.
It briefly was home to Shades Mountain Elementary School during a renovation at Shades Mountain and currently is home to the Crossroads alternative school. The facility also is used as office space for some central office personnel and for teacher training. The University of Alabama at Birmingham also has used it for some classes.
Shades Mountain Christian School made an offer to buy the former Berry High property for $13.8 million in 2006, but the deal fell through when Shades Mountain Christian couldn't come up with enough money to make it happen.
In 2007, the city of Vestavia Hills made a joint offer with Shades Mountain Christian School for $10 million, but by that time, Hoover school officials were not sure they wanted to sell the property or hold onto it for use by either the school system or city of Hoover. The joint offer expired without action by the Hoover school board.
Then in April of last year, the Hoover City Council voted to extend an offer to pay $9 million to the school board for the property with the idea of turning it into an athletic complex. However, school officials never acted on that offer, instead choosing to evaluate other potential uses for the site. The City Council rescinded its offer in November.
Murphy said her understanding is that the Vestavia Hills Board of Education has interest in using the property as a school site.
Whatever the Hoover school board decides, the U.S. Department of Justice has a vested interest in what happens with students who attend the Crossroads alternative school, Murphy said.
Murphy said the Department of Justice has been made aware that preliminary conversations are under way, and “there was no pushback or resistance” to that idea.
One option being considered for alternative school students is using the Hoover and Spain Park high school campuses at night for alternative school. Virtual, or online, learning is another option, she said.
U.S. Steel offer
Regarding the offer from U.S. Steel, Murphy said the 136 acres that U.S. Steel wants to sell Hoover City Schools lies along Interstate 459 between Preserve Parkway and Chapel Lane. It’s part of 273 acres the city of Hoover is attempting to rezone against the wishes of the property owners, including U.S. Steel.
Map provided by city of Hoover
Hidden Valley Apartments map 2
The area outlined in black is the 136 acres owned by U.S. Steel. It is commonly referred to as the Hidden Valley property and is currently zoned for apartments, though the city of Hoover is attempting to rezone the property for mostly commercial use.
The land is now zoned for apartments, but the city has proposed rezoning the land for mostly commercial use. The Hoover City Council on March 7 postponed a vote on the rezoning until April 4.
“The topography of that property has a number of challenges,” Murphy said, noting the grade of the land, streams, wetlands and old coal mines that are there. “So there’s a lot of due diligence that’s going to need to be done in terms of looking at that property.”
The question is whether that property or some other property would serve the school district well in the future as school officials think about potential growth and a potential site for an additional school, Murphy said.
“Obviously, a great deal of study needs to continue as we look at our schools and potential for growth,” she said.
Former Hoover Councilman Jody Patterson asked Murphy Monday night whether any dollar amounts had been mentioned. Murphy said an amount of money has been “bantered around,” but “I would say that’s not definitive at this point, and I’d rather not discuss it since it’s not a definite amount at this time.”
Trisha Crain, a resident of the Green Valley community who is executive director of the Alabama School Connection website, said that years ago, developers would donate land to Hoover City Schools. “We never used to pay for property for schools,” she said.
Somewhere along the way, former Superintendent Andy Craig began to pay for property for schools, and “I’m just wondering if that needs to be revisited,” Crain said.
Murphy said that sometimes land is set aside in subdivisions for schools, but the problem sometimes becomes the size of the land set aside. School systems need at least 30 to 40 acres for an elementary school and significantly more land for a full-blown high school with athletic facilities, she said.
“We’ll continue those conversations with all our builders and developers,” Murphy said.
She has had developers and builders in her office the past two weeks sharing the directions they are taking, she said.
School board member Stephen Presley said the need for land for another school is a moving target, but it’s something school officials have to be looking toward.
“As long as our city continues to grow, we have to be able to grow with it,” Presley said. “I’m excited that you are pursuing as many options as we can find for us, and I encourage you to keep working hard for all of our students.”