With three years in the planning, $350,000 in repairs, and three months in elbow grease, Chickasaw Elementary School is weeks from reality.
Many recall the 80 Grant Street campus as the circa 1947 Peter Joe Hamilton Elementary School. Not anymore. “We need to forget that name,” School Board Vice President Barry Broadhead said, at a recent school board meeting. “This is a new day and a new school.” And what a school it is. And what a difference 90 days make.
Major work is underway, including fresh paint, grant-induced classrooms, a $200,000 roofing job, and scrubbed everything. “See those white spots up there?” School Superintendent Kyle Kallhoff, said, pointing at a section of an exterior roof’s small white splattered dots. “That’s caulk, it’s how roof leaks were previously repaired,” he smiled. Today roofers are making needed repairs.
A formal ribbon cutting for the new school is set for August 9, 2 pm. But on this rainy July 11, afternoon, with roof work halted due to passing storms, Principal Christy Amick conducted a walking tour for Kallhoff, board members Bob Ham, and Elizabeth Grizzle. To borrow a phrase from the Gulf War, the visit was ‘Shock and Awe,’ but in a positive way.
Board member Bob Ham remembers how the campus looked at the April workday. “My initial impressions were fear and dread,” he recalled. “But everyone has pitched in, the school staff, board, community, and students.” Looking down the freshly painted hallway, he added, “This will be a great place for teachers to teach and students to learn. The transformation is total and remarkable.” That was not always the case.
The 68-year-old facility was the last turnover to Chickasaw as part of the pull out of Mobile County Schools. After a brief stint as a Mobile magnet school, the Grant Street complex was used for storage. By all accounts, it was in terrible condition.
In less than three months Chickasaw’s workers have filled two industrial dumpsters with trash and removed from the property – twice. “It had years of neglect,” noted board member Elizabeth Grizzle. “The floors looked terrible. Everything was nasty. It smelled of mildew.”
Today everything is scrubbed and painted. Students are enrolling (Pre- K through 5th grade), computers installed, and teachers preparing classes. “We have a great group of kids here,” said teacher Monica Cooper, busily organizing text books and supplies for her 5th grade class. “They want to learn and they have pride in this new school. It is not just academics, it is a relationship.”
Chickasaw Schools opened in 2012, after a negotiated, and occasionally contentious, departure from Mobile County Schools. Until now the entire kindergarten through 12th grade student body was housed under one roof. The house was crowded.
“We opened with about 699 students,” recalled Superintendent Kallhoff. “We ended the last school year with 940. Our students did a great job of sharing, and older kids looking out for the younger ones but they shared common areas, like the cafeteria, gym, and library. You can’t go on like that forever.”
Since day one the school system’s plan was to occupy Grant Street within 5 years. “We did it in three years, with two to spare,” noted Mrs. Grizzle. And school principal Amick adds, “I have not heard one parent critical of this new place.”
In addition to being principal, according to faculty members, Mrs. Amick other job titles during the summer of renovations, include shrub trimmer, painter, and furniture restorer. But she credits her staff. “Elementary school teachers have a great work ethic,” she said “I’ve seen teachers arrive early in the mornings and work late into the day, not just in preparing lessons but preparing the school. They are making sure we are ready.”
With school opening in August, there is still work ahead. Roofing work continues, computer technology is being installed and supplies ordered. “Teacher professional development is underway,” said Mrs. Amick. “They are getting the mindset to teach.” The principal acknowledges, “It’s a lot of little things too, pencils sharpened, books in place, everything in its place.” But she is confident, “when doors open in the new school year, we will be ready.”