The establishment of an independent Northport City School system may require the demolition and reconstruction of three existing schools, municipal leaders said during a committee meeting Monday afternoon.

Northport's City Administrator Glenda Webb gave an update on plans to establish a city school system independent of the Tuscaloosa County School System Monday afternoon at a meeting of the city council's Community Outreach Committee.

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Webb said following a favorable feasibility study, the city has partnered with Boardman, Carr, Petelos, Watkins & Ogle, a law firm in Chelsea, Alabama, that serves as legal counsel to more than a dozen school systems in the state already.

Webb said one of the firm's partners, Mark S. Boardman, is working on two steps to advance the process of emancipating 10 local schools from TCSS and forming an independent school system.

The first, Webb said, is partnering with a marketing firm to conduct a public opinion poll and make sure Northport citizens are widely in favor of making their own school system. She estimated the polling will cost less than $5,000 and will not require special approval from the city council.

The second step is a top-to-bottom assessment of existing facilities, which will take longer and cost significantly more -- up to $50,000, Webb said.

Webb said the city has given Boardman an optimistic target date of August 2023 for classes to begin in a new municipal school system, and the law firm has worked backward from that goal to decide next steps.

One major obstacle is deciding the fate of three TCSS schools that would become Northport schools in the new system -- Crestmont Elementary School, Matthews Elementary School and Collins-Riverside Middle School.

"Without knowing the true cost of what needs to be done within the facilities that we would be negotiating for, [Boardman] feels uncomfortable giving any additional direction," Webb told the committee. "Obviously, if a school needs to be torn down and rebuilt somewhere else, that’s more costly than regular maintenance issues and I know we have three schools that probably would need to be torn down and reconstructed."

With construction costs in constant flux, an ongoing labor shortage, the complications of the coronavirus and more, choosing to demolish and rebuild those three schools will ramp up the cost of establishing the school system and could jeopardize city leaders' goal to have the new system up and running by fall 2023.

Still, Northport Mayor Bobby Herndon told the Tuscaloosa Thread that separating from TCSS is a top priority for this administration.

"The question is not do we want one, we’ve got to have one," Herndon said. "The county school system cannot keep up with Northport’s growth and it’s time for us to get our big boy pants on."

Herndon said in addition to demolishing and rebuilding the three schools in question, the city needs to be planning right now to build an additional new elementary school, if not two more.

Herndon said he expects the population growth in Northport to continue explosively, and to possibly eclipse 40,000 citizens by the time the 2030 census is conducted.

"With the anticipated growth in Northport, we need to be building a new elementary school right now for housing that is already planned in District 3," Herndon said. "Northport is booming and we are already behind as is."

With Webb's estimation that the cost of the site analysis may exceed $50,000, authorizing the move will require a vote of the council. She said the costs could be covered from revenue generated by the Northport First tax plan adopted in 2019.

For more updates on the creation of the Northport City Schools system, stay connected to the Tuscaloosa Thread.

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