Orange Beach City Administrator Ken Grimes.
By John Mullen
February 9, 2018 – Orange Beach, AL (OBA) – City Administrator Ken Grimes says city leaders have been considering ways to enhance and upgrade the campus of the recreation center and community for the past few years.
But one of the considerations included the possibility of an expansion of the nearby elementary school to house middle school students. Or would land across the street from the elementary school be needed for a middle school?
With a solid school plan now in place and Baldwin County planning a seventh-through-12th-grade school on Canal Road near the Sportsplex, Grimes said the city can now start studying plans for improvements.
“Once that got clarified and the Baldwin County school board said they were going to build a middle school in Orange and that evolved into a middle school-high school once Gulf Shores announced their city system, it gave us the go-ahead because it wasn’t going to be on this campus,” Grimes said.
And a cornerstone of those efforts will be an education initiative led by Mayor Tony Kennon’s Expect Excellence Afterschool Program to be headquartered at the recreation campus. Kennon made a presentation on Feb. 1 detailing a program to have classes on academics, arts and athletics with an eye toward excellence. There’s even a “General Manners of Respectful Behavior and Class” to be attended by gentlemen and belles.
Orange Beach Mayor Tony Kennon.
“I don’t believe you get excellence unless you expect it,” Kennon said. “We all believe excellence is an attitude. It’s just not something that grows on a tree or shows up at your front door. We’re going to have expected excellence in academics, arts and athletics.”
Kennon and other city leaders have assembled a team which will be led the council and citizens with the mayor as the general manager. Jonathan Langston will be the program director, Laura Davis will be the recreation sports director and Sunshine Smith will continue to be the Camp Sunshine director. Coordinators will include Kelly Cleere in academics, Ron Roberts and Caleb Pittman in the arts and Kennon will be the athletics coordinator.
Kennon wants to get this program started right away even though there’s not a plan set in stone. He paraphrased Gen. George Patton on his desire to kick-start the new effort.
“We have a good plan, but not a perfect plan, not a complete plan, but I’m ready to go and we’re ready to go,” Kennon said. “We’re ready to get started. The path may not be set but the end result is the purpose. And we know what the end result is. Young men and women of character, academic scholars, who excel in art and athletics.”
It will be a growing program, Kennon said, adding different classes or art mediums or sports as they are needed or requested.
“We’re going to evaluate everything and be very flexible no how we run this program,” he said. “It’s going to be evolving, open to suggestions and constructive criticism. And we hope the kids learn that participating is going to be a lot of fun.
“We’ll have tutoring, study groups, essay workshops, resume building, interviewing workshops and computer skills workshops, a young entrepreneur group with business training and personal finance, and clubs for math, history, science, robotics, chess and debate.”
Grimes said the cost of the program is unknown as well, but city leaders are studying it closely. Paying teachers to come in to help students in the programs and hiring additional staff could cost as much as $200,000 a year, he said.
“In academics, we’re going to have a lab in place where kids can come in and do their homework with a teacher there to answer questions and help them do their homework,” Kennon said. “We’re going to have a catch-up program for kids who are behind and referred by a teacher to come in and they will have one-on-one instruction. We’re going to have a get-ahead program for kids who want to get ahead or be challenged because they are a little bored.”
Among specialized classes officials plan to offer are theater, vocal, arts, ballet and dance, visual arts, culinary arts and creative writing.
Grimes said the city is also looking to hire a consultant to decide the best ways to utilize the land at the recreation/community center campus with an eye to adding new buildings and possibly upgrading or rebuilding both the aquatic center and tennis center.
“We have the need for building an additional gymnasium at our rec center probably next to the current gymnasium on the grassy area there,” he said. “We’re trying to build another building or wing for Camp Sunshine. That’s been talked about for four or five years now because of the popularity of the afterschool care and summer programs she provides.”
Another indoor practice and training facility with astroturf is also something the city would like to build at the campus, Grimes said.
“Those things we are looking to get plans in place by the end of the year and maybe start construction by the end of the year,” he said. “It will be defined by the footprint of what we can build on because we don’t have much going toward the Community Center.
“Having an additional gym, having a turf room, have room for Sunshine’s group to grow, all those are things that are just part of our growing pains. If you took those three buildings alone it could range from $2 million to $2.5 million.”
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