Supporters plan future campus after BTW destroyed by fire

Supporters evaluating funding, locations for BTW after fire

MONTGOMERY, AL (WSFA) - The future of Booker T. Washington Magnet High School was a topic of intense planning and discussion Tuesday, nearly three months after an overnight fire destroyed the campus.

The BTW F.A.M.E Board, Friends of Academics and Magnets in Education, hosted a “Solutions Charrette” to break down funding, possible campus locations, and expanding programs.

The five-hour long event drew in dozens of alumni, parents, and community supporters from a broad range of backgrounds who could be helpful to the rebuilding process.

“This is a stakeholder initiative, everyone is seeking solutions,” explained F.A.M.E. board member Jeanne Charbonneau.

For many in attendance, the rebuilding process cannot happen quickly enough, for a number of reasons.

“When we moved into the Union Street campus in 1997 it was supposed to be for three to five years. It was 21 one years,” Charbonneau explained. “Nobody wants that to happen again. It can’t happen again.”

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The concern is the temporary campus at Old Hayneville Road Elementary School will evolve into a permanent space, which is a difficult fit for a performing arts school with needs for a dynamic campus.

So far, eight locations are on the short list.

“There’s space for another school at One Center,” Charbonneau listed. “Saint Judge Educational Facility on Fairview is empty. We met with the Archdiocese representative who is the property director there and we have walked through that property. We have developers in town like Marjam and McGregor Hodges. They have warehouses and property. There’s a lot of options for us.”

Finances are the chief concern for F.A.M.E., who realizes it must independently organize, plan, and fund raise to create a new campus for BTW.

“We have support from MPS, but they don’t have resources,” Charbonneau said. “We’ve heard numbers like $40-50 million tossed around. We have a lot of finance people here today saying there’s other sources for funding, and if we have a structurally sound facility, that amount even with a preforming arts center, can actually be cut in half.”

Which brings the total to around $20 million. Right now BTW has $7 million on hand from the insurance company and $4 million in reserve from a legislative grant.

So far, MPS has not committed to allocate funding from the sale of the South Union property to BTW to fund its rebuilding effort. It’s much-needed cash-flow that could be used to bring the district from under state intervention.

“We don’t believe BTW should shoulder the responsibility of bringing the entire system out of state intervention,” Charbonneau stated.

If this rebuilding process isn’t handled expeditiously, there’s concern students may leave the system and take the state-funded dollars with them, which would create greater financial woes for MPS. That’s why F.A.M.E. will begin proposing a millage increase for Montgomery that would benefit the system. Currently, Montgomery’s rate is set at 10 mills, which is mandatory.

“People often wonder how other systems are able to have great schools,” Charbonneau asked. “Pike Road opened at 20 mills. Montgomery is at the state mandated 10 mills. Huntsville at 27.5 and Auburn is 24.5 mills. Money is an issue. We need to finance all our schools.”

F.A.M.E.'s goal is for the current freshman class to graduate as the first class from the new BTW campus in 2022

If you want to get involved or make a tax-deductible donation for construction click here: www.btwfameboard.org/

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