State-of-the-art Biloxi junior high to open next fall

A worker carries blocks to masons as they build the new Biloxi Junior High School campus Friday, Sept. 30, 2016.
A worker carries blocks to masons as they build the new Biloxi Junior High School campus Friday, Sept. 30, 2016.

Students and parents: Get ready.

With enrollment numbers finally matching pre-Katrina numbers, Biloxi School District officials said they’re looking forward to the official unveiling of a brand new 195,000-square-foot junior high school next fall.

“We’re hopeful everything stays on track and by July, we’ll be able to do our part to make sure everything is ready for the students,” District Superintendent Arthur McMillan said.

All seventh- and eighth-graders will be attending the new school.

Officials said they want to get the word out now to students and parents in the district. They gave a tour of the construction site Friday and touted some of the school’s amenities.

The new school will include a front office area for administrative staff with a main student entrance, a fine arts wing that includes a piano lab, a gym that is able to equip multiple sporting events with seating and a stage, a library and outdoor dining area and a courtyard.

Originally estimated to cost close to $37 million, the $35.5 million school will offer:

▪ An energy-efficient design

▪ Four STEM labs and three computer labs

▪ 51 classrooms

▪ Two full-size gyms

▪ Two-story academic wings

▪ A food court-style cafeteria adjoining a courtyard

▪ A media center

▪ A main student entrance

▪ An enclosed campus for safety

Board president Keith Anderson said that with the help of casino revenue and being frugal with the budget the last several years, the district has been able to save money in anticipation of the new school.

“This has been a long time coming. We’ve paid off our debts. We’ve seen the need for a new school for awhile now, so we’ve being doing what we can in anticipation of this,” Anderson said. “It’s a good day.”

Enrollment is on the increase, too, public information officer Jennifer Pyron said.

The district has averaged about 250 additional students each year for the last five years, not including increases in pre-K enrollment.

“We’re finally back to pre-Katrina numbers in the district, so we have a need for more space. We see businesses coming into Biloxi, so we’re hopeful the growth continues,” Pyron said.

The new school will be able to hold 1,300 students, though the district expects a little over 1,200 students to start next fall.

Officials say the most appealing part is the school’s location. Directly west of Biloxi High School, it will allow the district to hold competitions, tournaments and multi-school events. It will also cut down on transportation costs for busing since both high school and junior high students will be traveling to the same campus area.

The building will also free up classrooms at the current junior high, which houses sixth-, seventh- and eighth-grade students.

The existing junior high will house fifth and sixth grades next year. Removing fifth-graders from the elementary schools will free up space and staff, district business manager Shane Switzer said.

The current junior high school was built in 1961 at a cost of $1.6 million.

Justin Vicory: 228-896-2326, @justinvicory