School district wants to sit down with city, county to discuss future of bean field

Published 10:42 pm Wednesday, November 23, 2016


NATCHEZ — Natchez-Adams School District officials plan to send a letter this week to three area boards to request a joint meeting as soon as possible to discuss the future plans of the bean field next to Natchez High School.

The Natchez-Adams County Recreation Commission aims to use the bean field for a baseball/softball recreation complex seeking to bring in outside tournaments, while the school administration has recently floated the idea of using the location to build a new high school.

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School board member Phillip West made the proposal at Tuesday’s meeting in light of Adams County Board of Supervisors President Mike Lazarus’s call for clarification on the direction of the bean field at Monday’s supervisors’ meeting.

While Lazarus said he is not against a new school being built, he does not want it to deter progress on the county and city’s comprehensive recreation plan. The plan was stalled for years, and Lazarus said he was disappointed to see it stall again just as it was gaining momentum.

West said the school board needed to get clarification on if the bean field site would be available for a school before they planned to use it in the district’s plans to potentially build a new school.

Recreation commission chair Tate Hobdy said to remove the bean field from the recreation interlocal agreement, the county, the city and the school board would all have to vote in favor of it.

Lazarus said a new school could be built anywhere — and for security it might be better if it is not on a major thoroughfare — while the bean field is a great location for the recreation complex.

“I wish they would put it on a referendum over the next couple of months,” Lazarus said. “What if we agree to let them use the bean field and the public says it does not want a new school?

“I’m not trying to stop them from building a school, but I don’t want to waste a lot of time going through the process and losing the opportunity to build the recreation complex.”

City Alderwoman Joyce Arceneaux-Mathis said she would put building a new school ahead of the recreation complex. She said the city likely has one shot at building a new school, and she doesn’t want to see a referendum thrown together before the school board has proper time to vet all the details and the vote not reach the 60 percent threshold to pass.

“There needs to be a lot of public meetings held so people understand the referendum,” Arceneaux-Mathis said. “We need to have neighborhood meetings as well as public forums so the district can sell the concept of building a state-of-the-art, public high school facility.

“I think if our due diligence is done right, it will pass. But you need to take the time to explain it neighborhood by neighborhood.”

Putting a new high school in a visible location — which could be seen from the Natchez Trace Parkway as well as the U.S. 84 and 61 highways — will draw quality staff and students.

“I think we can be an A-plus school system if we can bring quality teachers here to stabilize the system,” she said. “I believe once the school is built, it will be one of the things that will help bring this whole community together.”

On the other hand, Hobdy said the bean field is perfect for the baseball/softball complex, which could potentially draw outside tournaments and have an economic impact on the community.

“It is a fantastic site,” he said. “It is not in any specific neighborhood, so it would not create traffic issues. Being by the fly over, outside travelers would not have any trouble finding it.”

Lazarus said the recreation complex could be built without raising taxes, while school officials have not yet decided if they will raise taxes or attempt to keep them level as two bonds are retired in 2016 and 2017.

Arceneaux-Mathis said she did not see giving the district time to get fully organized on building a new school as something that would hold recreation up.

She said the multipurpose fields are just waiting on the grass to grow and the swimming pool and basketball court are coming to the Liberty Road area soon, while many improvements have been made to the facility at Duncan Park and other city parks.

“We have baseball and softball fields,” Arceneaux-Mathis said. “We can utilize what we have and give the school system time to sell this referendum.”

Natchez Mayor Darryl Grennell said he has not been approached by school officials to discuss the bean field.

“We need to sit down and talk,” Grennell said. “I am looking forward to having a joint meeting.”

The school board intends to meet with hired architecture firm M3A Monday to discuss potential cost options, and Superintendent Fred Butcher said he would attempt to schedule the meeting next week sometime after Monday, or as soon as possible thereafter.

The school board also intends to kick off efforts to reach out to the public for a general update meeting slated for 5:30 p.m. on Jan. 19 at the Natchez High School Auditorium. Butcher said the meeting would be update the public on where the school district is at as a whole, but a big topic of that will be NASD’s building plans.

Butcher has said if the district can acquire the funding, he would like to see a new high school built in the bean field next door to the current high school. The bean field is publicly owned and the district would not have to factor buying land into construction costs.

Following completion of the new school, the next option would be to renovate Natchez High School.

The renovated campus option plus a new high school would allow the district to move the middle school to the current high school facility, close down Frazier Elementary School, and use the Morgantown campus as an elementary school.

While construction consulting firm Volkert Inc. estimated the cost of building a new school and renovating Natchez High School would be $60 million, Butcher said the district intends to spend less than that.