Grissom High School students – past, current and future – were part of the crowd Tuesday morning as the Huntsville school district broke ground on the school’s long-awaited new $60 million campus.
The Grissom marching band played for the crowd of parents, city leaders and school district officials, who gathered under a tent erected on the edge of the 61-acre site, located off South Memorial Parkway behind Sam’s Club. The school’s mascot, the Grissom tiger, danced as he and Tiger cheerleaders welcomed attendees to the groundbreaking, which Grissom principal June Kalange called “the start of a new era”.
Students also took part in the ceremony, including three members of Grissom’s Class of 2021 – the first class anticipated to graduate from the new school. The students are currently sixth-graders at Challenger Middle School, Mountain Gap P-8 and Whitesburg P-8.
One of those future Grissom graduates, 11-year-old Priya Morgan, said she was excited about the new campus, which she said will have state-of-the-art classrooms and labs to help ready her for college.
“I want to be a chemist,” Morgan said with a huge smile. “I like chemistry, and science is my favorite subject.”
Morgan’s mother, Preeti Francis, said she, too, is happy to see the new school on the horizon.
“Just knowing we will have the facilities to support the programs that we will need is very exciting,” Francis said. “I’ve not spent a lot of time in the current building, but I know that there are things we cannot do because the school does not have the physical capabilities.”
Huntsville Superintendent Casey Wardynski said Tuesday was a great day.
“Grissom has been an important element of the city and the school system since it was built in 1969 and first opened its doors in 1970. It’s had a long and honorable tradition of excellence and it’s been one of our key incubators for new programs,” Wardynski said.
Wardynski pointed to programs like Project Lead the Way, which started out at Grissom but this year has expanded into every school in the district. He said Grissom, along with the upcoming Jemison High School in north Huntsville, will also set the city schools on a new path of advanced manufacturing education.
“They, and our high school in the north, Jemison, will have probably two facilities that are without compare in the United States,” Wardynski said. “As well as probably the only two high schools that will have racetracks.”
Grissom and Jemison will both have racetracks as part of Huntsville’s designation as the home of Greenpower USA, the American branch of a British organization that teaches STEM education through electric car races.
Mayor Tommy Battle congratulated the district, the Grissom students and the Huntsville community.
“This is an investment that we’re making,” Battle said. “This community is investing in a school. But more than investing in a school and the education process that comes out of a school, we’re investing in a band, we’re investing in young students who will be here and will be educated here, and we’re investing in what we value as a community.
“Education is the foundation block of everything good that happens in this community, from economic development to quality of life,” Battle said.
School board president David Blair pointed out that, four years ago, the school district was struggling under massive debt and had hundreds of millions in capital needs. He credited taxpayers with seeing the need in 2012 to renew a 6.5 mill ad valorem tax that brings about $14 million per year into the school district for upgrades and new facilities.
“That was huge. That allows us to build this school, as well as others,” Blair said. “It’s a huge investment in students; it’s a huge investment in our community. And really, really, thank you for everything you have done to help this community.”
Blair and Jennie Robinson, who has represented Grissom on the school board since 2002, both praised the district’s partnerships with the city and the Madison County Commission, which they said allow projects like the new Grissom campus to move forward.
“Today we’re marking a new beginning not only for Grissom families and faculty, but for our south Huntsville community,” said Robinson, who is seeking the District 3 seat on the Huntsville City Council. “A new Grissom High School in this new location will be a magnet for growth in this area. It will revitalize an area that was depressed.”
Robinson said the new high school also marks a new beginning for the current campus, which will be turned into a municipal complex that will include a police substation, a new public library branch, a recreation center and a community theatre. Madison County Commissioner Phil Riddick and other supporters of the plan hope to raise $4 million privately to help pay for the new library.
The new Grissom, initially slated to open in August 2016, is now anticipated to open to students in January 2017.