GULF SHORES — A larger elementary school. “The best middle school in the universe.” A brand new, innovative high school located on 200 acres.
These are all elements in Gulf Shores City Schools’ 10-year master plan.
The plan was unveiled to the public during “The Next Wave” presentation held on Tuesday, March 8 at the Erie Meyer Civic Center in Gulf Shores. It was revealed by presenters Dr. Matt Akin, system superintendent, and Kevin Corcoran, president of the board of education.
“A master plan is really a road map for the future,” said Akin. “We look at existing conditions, we look at data like capacity, how many students do we have, and how many classrooms can we put those students in? We also look at the physical spaces and their educational adequacy, will our classrooms give our teachers the ability to teach like they want to teach?
“What a master plan is not, it’s not the final design of the new facilities,” Corcoran added. “It’s not the final budget. It’s not even construction estimates or floorplans. What it is, is the plan that gives us the confidence to move forward with those next steps.”
The master plan is the culmination of 16-months of planning by the core team. The results are improvements, upgrades, and new innovations within the system’s schools. Eventually, the plans include the construction of a new high school. Once the new high school opens, the current high school building will become the middle school, and the current middle school facility will become part of the elementary school campus.
There are three phases within the master plan for elementary school improvements.
Phase one will be constructing a new classroom building to the east of the new STEAM building. The STEAM building is scheduled to be complete before the end of this school year. Akin said the hope is to begin construction of the new classroom building at the beginning of the next school year, and for it to be completed by the end of that school year.
Phase two consists of upgrading the classrooms in the 100, 200, 300 and 400 buildings and upgrading the furniture in those classrooms.
“Phase three is one of the most important aspects, and that’s the future connector that connects all those buildings together,” Akin said. “This connector will go down the center of the new campus. The future connector is more than just a hallway, it’ll be a learning space, so it’s really exciting when you consider the future of Gulf Shores Elementary School.”
Akin said once GSES takes over the current middle school campus, the school will have room to expand. While not finalized, Akin said a major hope will be to grow the PreK center.
“We can’t promise it yet, but we think we’re going to have room for a PreK center that could be in the 100 building,” he said. “We might even double the number of PreK classes that we have right now, and we know how important that is for educational purposes and for our parents.”
Once the new high school campus opens its doors, the middle schoolers will move into the current high school facility.
“What if I told you that the new middle school would have a large weight room, a Center for Applied Design where middle school students could study engineering, a culinary center, a band room, a new Athletics Center and a music production lab?” Akin asked.
Akin said while reviewing potential school conceptions, the design team voiced ideas to convert the current high school into a new innovative middle school for a fraction of the cost of constructing a new middle school building.
Renovation plans within the current high school facility include redesigning the hallways into learning areas, making the classrooms open to get visibility within them, adding new furniture in the classrooms, and work on the media center. Akin said all these renovations can begin now before the high school moves campuses.
“After 16 months of the core team working, the vision of the new Gulf Shores High School crystalized for us,” said Corcoran. “We knew that we wanted the new high school to be a landmark for the community. We want it to visualize the progressive vision of the leaders of Gulf Shores, and we want it to be a commitment, community-wide, to our small town.”
He said the new campus will house academics, athletics, fine arts, performing arts, outdoor learning environments, and that the goal is to implement a sustainable design.
“Through generous donations, we have a 200-acre site to design the new Gulf Shores High School complex,” Corcoran said. “Mayor Robert Craft and the city council, they dedicated this acreage to the new high school. At first, we were talking about a portion of it, maybe 30 to 40 acres up in the north, and then they said, ‘if we’re going to do this right, use it all.’ So that’s just an incredible commitment from our city leaders.”
The new complex will be located at the intersection of Coastal Gateway Boulevard and the Foley Beach Express. Based on the current layout, the northern end of the campus, referred to as the “academic end,” will contain the new high school building and the athletics, which will include gymnasiums, fine arts, a band room, music labs, a theater and a football stadium.
The south end is being referred to as the “athletic end,” and will house the athletic complex, which will be shared facilities between the school system and the city of Gulf Shores.
“When the core team first saw these renderings, we thought, ‘wow,’” said Corcoran. “They truly incorporate all of the important elements that we envisioned. Lots of natural light, open outdoor learning environments, outdoor trails for when the weather is permissive, collaboration areas, flex space, laboratories, performing arts, athletics, everything that you can imagine, that we want in a high school, is incorporated in this design.”
After 16-months of planning, the master plan has now been revealed. But, how long until its comes to fruition?
“A ten-year master plan doesn’t mean we start in ten years,” said Akin. “It means we finish in ten years, so we’re going to start immediately. So, our timeline. We think in the next month we will have a design team of architects under contract to start designing the new high school, and at the same time, after we get into the design process, as soon as practical, you’ll see site assessment and preparation going on at the site of the new high school.”
“We’re here to hear your input, we’re here to hear your thoughts on tonight, what you saw,” Corcoran said at the presentation’s finale. “What you liked, what you didn’t like, we want to hear it. Because we can only get better with your input. It’s exciting times for Gulf Shores City Schools.”