By Kathy Feist
Officials from the Hickman Mills School District held a press conference November 18 to announce the demolition of Symington and Johnson elementary schools, which have been vacant since 2018.
The demolition of both buildings is a slight departure from the plan presented in the $20 million bond package approved by voters in August. The bond question called for Symington and Johnson to be renovated into a middle school and community center, respectively. A third vacant school building, the original Smith-Hale building, was planned for demolition. It will now remain standing.
But much has changed since the ballot language was written almost six months ago, including two fires and vandalism at both facilities.
“I’ve heard from many residents about the conditions of these vacant buildings in our community and the issues of them bringing crime in the neighborhoods,” said Hickman Mills Board of Education President DaRon McGee. “We want to make sure our assets are valuable to the community, not only in the realm of education, but in taking care of our property. And this is one small step to get there.”
“We are taking monumental steps today as we clear and level the playing field with some of these buildings and start to resurrect and rebuild in a way that will be a 21st century facility for our students,” added Superintendent of Schools Yaw Obeng.
Demolition will be completed by early spring.
In the meantime, the school board along with consultants from HTK Architects will decide how to reconfigure a new second middle school for the district: either grades 6 to 8, or a 6th grade center, or grades 7 to 8 while a 6th grade center, according to Obeng in an interview with the Telegraph.
This year the district opened a 6th grade center at Burke Academy in order to temporarily offset the crowded middle school population. “It’s proven to be very successful,” says Obeng.
When the future middle school is built, Burke Academy will become the community center that was originally earmarked for Johnson elementary school.
The original Smith-Hale Middle School that has sat vacant and heavily damaged by fire will remain for sale, in an effort “to save the district from spending money on demolition,” says Obeng.
The announcement comes on the heels of the school board’s approval to increase teachers’ salaries by approximately 25 percent. That move puts Hickman Mills School District at the top of the salary scale for public school teachers in Jackson County. The increase is funded by a $1.35 per $100 tax levy approved by voters in August. District staff will also soon receive an increase in pay.
Hickman Mills C-1 School District voters have approved $50 million in bonds over
the past two years. In addition to the August approval of the $20 million no-tax bond
increase, the Hickman Mills community said yes in 2020 to a $30 million bond issue for various improvements across the district.