By Marc D. Anderson, City of Orange Beach
Decades of effort and hard work finally came to fruition on Monday, August 10, 2020 when Baldwin County Board of Education officials joined Orange Beach leaders, as well as state and county officials, to celebrate the opening of the new Orange Beach High and Middle School.
During the ceremony, Baldwin County Public Schools Superintendent Eddie Tyler said working with Orange Beach to make the two-story, 130,000-square-foot school building a reality has been a “true partnership.”
“Orange Beach has really stepped up and we’ve got us, I’m sure, a flagship high school, middle school, elementary school, and we’ve got a flagship feeder pattern,” Tyler said. “And what I’m confident in, and the mayor who has spoken to me about this, I know a lot of people over the years have said, ‘Well, you’re going to build it and they’re going to leave you.’ I truly believe they are not. … I truly feel that Mayor Tony Kennon and the City Council and myself have a solid partnership and for that I’m thankful.”
Mayor Tony Kennon said the opening of the county’s newest school is just the beginning of the partnership that will take education to new heights.
“I do appreciate the board and their commitment to our partnership,” Mayor Kennon said. “It’s like me and Mr. Tyler had talked about, we are doing things here that have probably not been done, in very unique ways. And when you haven’t done it before it makes it a little difficult to make that change and I understand that. But they have been so good about trying to be that partner that gets out of that box.
“You know, I tell my kids, ‘If you follow the trend, you can’t be a trendsetter.’ And we don’t want to follow trends, we want to be the trendsetters and that’s what we’re going to do. We’re going to be the best, we’re going to be innovative. We’re going to be the first out of the box. Mr. Tyler and the board have been so good and understanding and helping us do that. So this is just the beginning of where we’re going. And I know this time as long as we can be the best that we can be and y’all support us in being the best we can be, we’ll be right there with you. We have no reason to do anything different. So extremely proud of that.
“This has been a long time coming. This has been a 20-year dream; part of that was a battle, but it’s come to fruition.”
Up until the 2018-19 school year, Orange Beach middle and high school students attended school in Gulf Shores. In 2017, the Gulf Shores City Council voted to form its own city school system and the county school board moved quickly to approve construction of the new Orange Beach High and Middle School on 40 acres donated by the city on Canal Road. While the high and middle school officially started in the 2019-2020 school year in portables, having the new building open its doors is a watershed moment for the Orange Beach community.
“I can’t tell you how hard we have worked and prayed for this day,” Councilwoman Annette Mitchell said on behalf of the Orange Beach City Council. “I am so excited for every single person who has had even a finger to do with the opening of our school. … Congratulations, everyone.”
McKee & Associates designed the school with input from the city and Sharpe Inc. built it. An adjacent 710-seat Performing Arts Center, funded by the city, is under construction and expected to be complete in May 2021.
The main school building features a gymnasium that seats 740 in the bleachers, a cafeteria that seats 280 inside and 120 outside, and a tornado shelter that can accommodate 1,520 people. The high school, which utilizes the first floor, features 21 standard classrooms, four collaborative rooms, two special needs, two science classrooms, two science labs, a band room, a theatre room and a prop shop. The middle school, which utilizes the second floor, features eight standard classrooms, two collaborative rooms. two science classrooms, a television production suite w/ classroom and an art room/lab.
School officially started for students on Wednesday, August 12.
Superintendent Tyler gave accolades to OBHS Principal Dr. Erika McCoy and OBMS Principal Dr. Robbie Smith, who were hired in February of 2019. Dr. Smith was principal of Hartselle Junior High School in the Hartselle City School System, and Dr. McCoy was principal of Haleyville High School in the Haleyville City School System.
“I tell you what, they have brought a lot to this new school and I know they are going to bring a lot more,” Tyler said. “In the middle of the year you just got to understand just how hard it is to find top-tier principals that are willing to leave the security of their system and venture out to a place where they didn’t have any school, no building - no anything - and step out in faith and they have done that. And for you two, I can’t thank you enough. Thank you for doing that, I appreciate it.”
Dr. McCoy said it has been a pleasure working alongside Dr. Smith.
“I will tell you, I think I speak for both of us, but it has been the most adventurous year and six months that I can recall in my entire 40 years of life,” Dr. McCoy said. “We started in a modest little room at the elementary school that Mr. (Principal Ryan) Moss so graciously lent to us. And with the support of many, many of you standing here and the patience of many of you standing here, we made it to today. Lots of sleepless nights. I know that I am so thankful that we didn’t travel this journey alone - thankful to the board of education and to the City Council. And, you know, I continue to hear the words, partnership, collaboration, cooperation and I am a huge fan of Helen Keller and she said it best: ‘Alone we can do so little. Together we can do so much.’ And there is no greater representative of the value of an education in a child’s life than Helen Keller, and I just want to say that our pledge to you and to this community and the board of education is to make the school the absolute best that it can be. Not the best in the county. Not the best on the island. Not the best in the state. The best in the nation and that is our pledge.”
The ceremony also included former Orange Beach Councilwoman Iris Ethridge presenting two flags to the schools. Orange Beach Middle received a State of Alabama flag that flew over the state capitol on December 14, 2019, which was the 200th anniversary of Alabama’s statehood. The high school received an American flag that flew over Washington D.C.
“The second flag flew over the National Capitol on Oct. 30, 2019,” Ethridge said. “This flag flew on the birthday of my husband who is now deceased and our son who was born on his birthday. I am so glad that both of my fellas were veterans and got honorable discharges. So I am so proud to give the United States flag to our high school to fly with pride. This is the flag that they fought to protect. May it ever wave.”
And with that Superintendent Tyler and Mayor Kennon stood at the front of county school board members and staff, county and state officials, and Orange Beach City Council members Annette Mitchell, Jerry Johnson, Joni Blalock, Jeff Silvers and Jeff Boyd to officially cut the ribbon for Orange Beach High School and Orange Beach Middle School. Group photos followed, ending with a hearty “Go Makos!”