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Sparkman to get full awning for disabled students’ buses

By Bayne Hughes · 340-2432

Sparkman School’s physically and mentally disabled students will soon have cover when their buses drop them off or pick them up at school during rainy weather.

Morgan County Board of Education members instructed Maintenance and Transportation Director Bruce Kimbrell at Thursday’s meeting to build about 240 feet of awning over the bus delivery area for $22,000.

The instructions came after Sparkman Principal Ronnie Moore cried foul at a plan to build only 87 feet for $7,500 even though the board had accepted a bid for the entire project.

School board members Carolyn Wallace and Betty Hackett said they thought the board approved the complete project and complained that they found out about the change in plans in an article in Wednesday’s Decatur Daily.

Kimbrell was trying to reduce the cost of the awning while also building a portion of the visitors’ bleachers at Priceville High School’s football stadium, which he estimated would cost about $100,000.

The board has only $120,000 in state-allocated construction money.

Kimbrell also said he didn’t want to do the entire awning because the capital project schedule calls for Sparkman, which is on Alabama 36 east of Hartselle, to get an office complex next year. Crews would have to take down any new awning if the complex goes in the planned location.

Sparkman has 11 buses that carry 60 students from all of areas of the county to its physically and mentally disabled program. Moore said it takes five to 10 minutes to load or unload students on a normal day, but 20 to 25 minutes when it rains.

A bus driver said it’s difficult to unload the students, many of whom are medically fragile, and keep them dry with umbrellas.

Moore said the 87-foot of awning would cover four mini-buses, designed to carry handicapped children, at a time.

School board member Tom Earwood suggested building half of the awning as a compromise, which would give coverage for six to eight buses.

But Sparkman parents in the crowd said that wasn’t acceptable. Cindy Morgan, who has a 12-year-old disabled child who rides the bus to Sparkman, said the children deserve a place to unload or load out of the rain.

Hackett said she visited Sparkman on a rainy day and was “appalled” at what she saw.

Morgan said it takes too long in the morning to unload, often delaying instruction because of the time it takes to get to class and to dry off. She stopped just short of talking lawsuit, but spoke of students’ “legal right.”

“I’m very thankful (that board wanted the entire awning),” Morgan said. “We’ve been requesting this for two years. This is definitely the time of year we need it.”

Kimbrell said the contractor is to start on the project next week. He didn’t know how this change would affect the Priceville bleachers because the school board has not sought bids on that project.

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