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Science high school feasibility study underway after lawmakers approve $500,000 contract

The state will soon have a feasibility study on the possible construction of a statewide health-science high school near Demopolis, something Gov. Kay Ivey proposed during her State of the State address in March.

Lawmakers ultimately chose not to include Ivey’s proposed residential science high school in its spending allocations, with House Speaker Nathaniel Ledbetter previously telling Alabama Daily News that he’d feel more comfortable funding such a project after a feasibility study was performed.

On Sept. 7, the Legislative Contract Review Committee approved a $500,000 contract with the consulting firm Tripp Umbach to conduct such a study.

Under Ivey’s initial proposal, the school would have accepted students in grades nine through 12 and offer a varied curriculum of science, technology, engineering and mathematics, and health care-based courses. The project, Ivey said, was designed to address the growing shortage of health care workers in Alabama, with nurse positions continuing to dominate job openings in the state.

The school would have also had an estimated start-up cost of $62 million, and be constructed near Whitfield Regional hospital in Demopolis.

Tripp Umbach will be tasked with developing a three- to five-year sustainability plan to launch the project, which will include interviews with key stakeholders, potential site, program and financial analyses, and economic impact statements.

The firm will recommend a site location in November, which the contract reads could likely be the original proposal of Demopolis, with a final report complete in January, 2024.

The location was chosen, as previously explained by State Finance Director Bill Poole, who worked closely with Ivey on the project, due to its proximity to not only to Whitfield Regional, but two four-year universities; University of West Alabama and University of Alabama.

Those proximities, coupled with “a community that would offer active support,” Poole said, made Demopolis a clear choice for the school, which he estimated would house a total of 400 students, roughly 100 per grade. Perhaps most importantly, Poole said, the project would help address the state’s health care worker shortage, which is more pronounced in rural areas of the state, much like Demopolis.

“The objective is to produce graduates who are ready to go directly into the workforce so they could be nurses, (licensed vocational nurses), working in nursing homes, hospitals, physicians offices… that’s where the most acute shortage is, and it’s most acute in rural areas,” Poole previously told ADN.

“So again, adding this in a rural area aims at a statewide problem; it serves the entire state, but it also recognizes that some of the most acute challenges are in fact in rural areas.”

The $500,000 contract will be entirely state funded, with the final report likely to shape proposals for the project during the 2024 legislative session.

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