New junior high will reshape Biloxi schools' grade structure

COURTESY BILOXI SCHOOLSThis is a rendering of the soon-to-be-built Biloxi Junior High School.
COURTESY BILOXI SCHOOLSThis is a rendering of the soon-to-be-built Biloxi Junior High School.

The Biloxi Public School District's new junior high will feature an energy-efficient design, sleek look and enough capacity to accommodate future growth in the district, the building's designers said.

Officials presented plans for the new building at Tuesday's school board meeting.

Construction is set to begin in April and officials hope to have the school open for the start of the 2017-18 school year.

"The things Biloxi students experience and expect are different from most students. This adds to the wow factor," schools Superintendent Arthur McMillan said. "And once you get past wow factor, they really focused on best way to run a school building."

The new building, rather than simply adding to or replacing the existing junior high, will allow the district to revamp how it organizes its students.

Now, five elementary schools serve kindergarten through fifth grade and a single junior high houses sixth- through eighth-graders. There is also a single high school.

But the district's average growth of 250 students per year over the past five years has especially put a strain on the elementary schools.

The new building would serve seventh- and eighth-graders.

The existing junior high will house only fifth and sixth grades. Removing fifth-graders from the elementary schools will free up space and staff, Shane Switzer, the district's business manager, told the Sun Herald several months ago after the new building was first announced.

The new junior high will be built on property adjoining the high school, a location that should benefit seventh- and eighth-graders by putting them closer to the high school's arts, sports and academics resources, Switzer said.

That will allow the younger students to use what is offered at the high school, and save on transportation time and cost for teachers who work at both levels.

The $37 million project will actually be two buildings -- one for classrooms and academics and one for extracurricular activities -- the project's principal architect with MP Design Group, Jennifer Seymour, told the school board.

The two-story academic building will have seventh- and eighth-graders in separate wings and will have 52 classrooms, along with computer labs, work spaces and administrator offices.

The other building will have a gymnasium, cafeteria and music spaces, among other features. They will be separated but linked by a secure courtyard. Overall, the school will be about 195,000 square feet.

One thing the building's designers focused on particularly was energy efficiency, because officials are acutely aware of rising electric bills on the Coast.

The district will begin to advertise for bids Thursday with a deadline of March 22.

Officials are hoping to make a decision the following week and begin construction in April.

The space where the new building will go is already being cleared.