Felicia Simmons is glad her son, Nickalas Walker, has been able to spend all of his elementary years at Brookdale, and that he'll finish fifth grade there this year. A few years from now, the doors of the Bibb County public school may close for good.
Board of Education members are just one public hearing and a board meeting away from their final decision on which of three proposed schools will face the chopping block.
At least 30 people gathered at Brookdale Elementary on Thursday night for the first of two required public hearings as the district prepares to submit its five-year facilities plan to the state Department of Education. The next hearing is 3:30 p.m. Jan. 18 at the Board of Education central offices at 484 Mulberry St. in Macon. The meeting was previously scheduled for Jan. 8 but changed due to a lack of quorum of board members.
On Jan. 18, board members are scheduled to approve the closure of either Brookdale, Riley or L.H. Williams elementary school. Superintendent Curtis Jones recommended the Brookdale option, which also calls for building a new Riley Elementary, during a Dec. 14 meeting.
A school closure would address underutilized facilities, high operation costs and declining student enrollment in the district. The district is predicted to lose about 500 students and have an excess of 91 classrooms in its elementary schools by the year 2022, according to a report from the district.
The three schools being considered are using less than 68 percent of their classroom space. If the Brookdale option is approved, the school would not close until the 2021-22 year. The Brookdale and Riley attendance zones would be combined.
Following a presentation on the facilities plan, several community members voiced their concerns to the board. Superintendent Curtis Jones said he was glad people came to the hearing, shared their personal experiences and showed their support for Brookdale. He appreciated that some attendees expressed their understanding about why a school closure may be necessary.
Tiantia Card brought her daughter Kamiyah, a first-grader at Brookdale Elementary, with her to the public hearing. She wanted to make sure she was informed on what is happening, and she wondered what options she would have for where her daughter attends school if Brookdale closes.
"She likes Brookdale. I like Brookdale," she said. "But if it's going to happen, I've got to roll with the punches."
Simmons picks up her son from Brookdale, granddaughter from Riley Elementary and a friend's child from another school after she gets off work at Home Depot every day. The schools and her job are all relatively close together, but her pick-up schedule could become problematic if the kids are sent to schools that are further away. She's also concerned about the possibility of young children having long bus rides.
Aisha Lundy, who has two students at Brookdale now and two older children who went there, questioned why the district is considering closing the 27-year-old school when it was renovated recently.
“I feel saddened that we’re on the chopping block. This school has become beautiful," she told the board. "The work that has been done, why let it go to waste? The kids, the children, that’s what’s important.”
Jones stressed that the building will not sit empty. If Brookdale closes, the district has proposed using the facility to house an “8.5 Program” for students who are not quite ready for high school or a gifted center for students in grades one to five.