Pictured above, Etowah County Schools Superintendent Dr. Alan Cosby stands in front of the board’s new Broad Street office.
By Katie Bohannon, News Editor
The Etowah County Board of Education just secured its new home.
With the partnership and assistance of the Etowah County Commission, the board will relocate from its current residence at 3200 West Meighan Boulevard to 401 Broad Street in downtown Gadsden.
Since 1992, the ECBOE has resided in a former farmers market facility, which also presently houses the Alabama Cooperative Extension System office for Etowah County. While Etowah County Schools Superintendent Dr. Alan Cosby shared that the building has served its employees well for the past 28 years, the time soon arrived for a change.
Discussion regarding an office move sprouted several years ago, when former Chief Administrative Officer David Akins suggested the possibility of the ECBOE transitioning to the courthouse. Although the courthouse provided more space – a primary reason behind relocation – the building was not the best fit to accommodate the ECBOE’s needs. While talk died down, expansions surged at the ECBOE throughout the years as the board garnered more employees than available office space.
Four portable buildings reside on the ECBOE’s existing office site, with individual offices split inside the facility. As space continued to prove lacking, the building recently developed the need for a new roof, which could cost $100,000 or more. Etowah County CAO Shane Ellison viewed these issues firsthand prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, when he visited the ECBOE and reexamined the idea of an office relocation.
Everything changed when Monica Snead drove past an empty red brick building on Broad Street.
Located between Court Street and 4th Street on the north side of Broad, the former BB&T Bank building remained vacant following the bank’s move to Rainbow Drive. As the administrative assistant to Cosby, Snead understands the importance of an office space that is both operational and functional, accommodating both its employees and the public. She conveyed her interest in the building to Cosby as a potential future location for the ECBOE.
“First impressions are always important,” said Snead. “When people drive up and they see a nice building that we’re housed in, I feel like it will show that we care about our schools and our school system – that we want them to look nice as well.”
Throughout the closures due to the pandemic and the summer months, Cosby remained in contact with Ellison and the commission. Both parties examined the building and deemed it fit for the ECBOE’s necessities. Following a drastic price drop, the commission leapt onto the opportunity to secure the deal and purchased the new building for the ECBOE.
“This will be a huge improvement for the Board of Education and a great investment for Etowah County,” said Commission President Jeffrey Washington.
“We saw this as an opportunity to help the Board of Education and help fill a void for a vacant building downtown,” said Ellison. “We are required by law to provide the board, superintendent and his staff with office space, but I think this commission purchasing this building took it to a whole new level. [The commission] provided the board with a quality home where they can grow and thrive for the foreseeable future.”
Alabama law states that the commission must house the superintendent and his staff, and the location at 401 Broad Street surpasses all requirements. Three floors (including the basement) total over 30,000 square feet, with ample storage available and a dedicated parking lot for ECBOE employees. Future renovations will ensure that the ECBOE receives updated equipment, additional office space on the second floor and a brand-new board meeting room on the first floor. This emerges as a tremendous upgrade from the ECBOE’s current conference space, which often prompted employees and the public to gather at alternative areas when conducting meetings.
“I appreciate the Etowah County Commission securing this office space for us,” said Cosby. “That is phenomenal on their part and I’m very grateful to the commission for their foreword thinking and doing that. I’m thankful that we have a great relationship with our county commission. At the board of education, we work hand-in-hand with the commissioners at schools in their district, also Mr. Ellison as well. He’s been super to work with. All around, it’s a good working relationship. I’m very appreciative of that.”
The new location will also allow for the ECBOE’s Special Education office, now operating in Rainbow City, to share the workspace, housing all aspects of the Etowah County School System together under the same roof.
“I think to a certain extent, sometimes, out of sight-out of mind is a real issue,” said Ellison. “This puts the board in a very attractive location, both physically and strategically, being downtown. From an administrator’s perspective, I know that it’s very difficult to manage operations from afar. Giving Dr. Cosby the opportunity to consolidate his staff is something the commission can be really proud of.”
All Etowah County Commissioners expressed their enthusiasm regarding the move and extended their support to the ECBOE. District 3 Commissioner Jamie Grant envisioned the relocation as an opportunity to reiterate the commission’s mission of building bridges and unifying the county as a whole, while District 4 Commissioner Tim Ramsey and District 1 Commissioner Joey Statum noted how the positive partnership will affect downtown merchants and benefit local businesses.
“It’s a great deal for Etowah County as well as the board of education,” said Statum. “You’re going to have 50-60 employees they’ll have there a day, so that just means more business [for downtown merchants]. When they go on lunch break, there will be more people eating lunch and more people shopping in the area. That’s all a plus.”
In addition, the commission plans to occupy the former bank teller portion of the building out of the possibility that the need for an additional satellite office for the Probate Judge Office and Revenue Commissioner arises. If the courthouse were to close in the future, as in prior circumstances due to COVID-19, access to drive-thru windows would safeguard operations and services to continue.
“We’ve got to figure out ways where we can keep businesses going,” said Statum. “Sometimes, you’ve got to think outside the box. You can’t stop it; you’ve got to figure out ways to keep it rolling.”
In a press release, the commission stated that while the building was purchased for $800,000, it authorized financing in the amount of $1,750,000 to finance needed renovations, with the remaining balance applied toward the loan. Three local banks submitted proposals for financing, but River Bank provided the lowest rate at 2.45 percent. The press release noted that the project is being funded with proceeds from the Simplified Sellers Use Tax, and would not be possible had online sales tax not exceeded budget expectations. While the project is being financed over 10 years, the commission’s goal is to pay off the note in half the time.
As the commission strives to serve its citizens, it partners with those who share the same value of commitment to the individuals who call Etowah County home. The relocation of the ECBOE emerges as an example of strong relationships, built on unified efforts, to protect a vital force in the community, nurture growth and foster merited improvement where it is needed most.
“We’re in the business of educating kids,” said Cosby. “We want to continue to educate kids. As far as going forward, [the new office] will give us a good presence in downtown Gadsden. Our employees are going to have the opportunity to be more centrally located to some of our schools, and everyone is going to be under one roof. We look forward to moving ahead and carrying on education in the county schools.”