Spotlight on Madison County: Community Development

Stovehouse is a mixed-use campus of restaurants, live entertainment, shopping and more.

Madison County
The Madison County Services Center opened in March and is now home to several departments, including licenses, probate judge, sales tax, tax assessor, tax collector and board of registrars. The new building combines several departments into one, saving money for the county and making services more convenient for residents.

The 60,100-square-foot building, which includes a bus stop, bike racks and 350 parking spots, came in $2 million under budget.

“We came in under budget, and it relocates several departments for our residents to access easily,” says Dale Strong, Madison County Commission chairman. “It frees up room in the courthouse, which we are also going to renovate for new courtrooms and other features to make it more efficient and proficient.”

Even with a pandemic, more homes were built in 2020 in Madison County than any year in recorded history, officials say. There have been many industry relocations, as well as new announcements and expansions that create jobs for not only Madison County and north Alabama, but south Tennessee as well.

Madison County schools, with 20,000 students, are finishing $55 million in improvements at various campuses, using Base Realignment and Closure Commission funds to complete these projects. Projects include a $15 million Fine Arts Center at Sparkman High School.

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The school system, which is 8th largest in the state, received nearly $1 million from the Facebook Data Center for technology, as well as funding from other corporate partners such as Lockheed Martin, Northrop Grumman and Toyota. These grants also open windows of opportunity for students. The system’s Madison County Career Technical Center continues to grow, with offerings in engineering, robotics, construction, culinary arts, HVAC, auto mechanics, hospitality and horticulture.

The Madison County Virtual Academy, which began five years ago, well in advance of COVID-19, allows students to pursue independent learning. It is a stand-alone school that educated more than 400 students this year.

The school system ranks in the top 15% for academics in Alabama. Several individual schools have been honored as Blue Ribbon Lighthouse Schools and two — Sparkman Middle School and Moores Mill Intermediate School — were selected as Model PLC Schools, meaning that educators nationwide visit to learn about their techniques for success.

City of Huntsville
The city of Huntsville, already a 2 GIG city — which attracts residents and industry —has several projects underway, says Mayor Tommy Battle. The city was recently named the No. 2 mid-size metro most prepared for people to work from home from Filterbuy.

Huntsville will build a new city hall beginning this summer. A new fire station is planned on the west side of town, a new library in north Huntsville has opened, and Trader Joe’s and other major retail are in progress, along with three new hotels. Parks and recreation centers are getting major upgrades, a nature preserve is open, and more greenways are coming. The city is also home to the new Alabama School of Cyber Technology & Engineering, the only high school in the nation of its kind. The school is housed at Oakwood University while a facility will be built in Cummings Research Park. Innovation incubators and collaborative workspaces also are opening up throughout the city.

The 8,000-seat Huntsville Amphitheater is expected to open in 2022. The city, along with Venue Group, led by Ben Lovett of Mumford & Sons, has been working to bring a venue of this type to the city. The design is reminiscent of the Coliseum in Rome and will be a year-round event space with opportunities for local groups, businesses and government organizations. Developers also are looking to bring a prized food village to the venue. The city has a music commission as it works to create a music ecosystem.

“There is just growth all over,” Battle says. “With all the jobs coming in, all the announcements, and our capability for people to work from home, we are developing our own workforce from our K-12 systems, but also recruiting young people from all over for these high-tech jobs.” Several new subdivisions are underway as well as 34 new apartment developments, Battle says.

The city has completed a $250 million school facility improvement program, and will build a new administration building, Battle says. The city also is part of the Tennessee RiverTowns program, one of 15 communities chosen to work on becoming an official Tennessee RiverTown and part of the Tennessee RiverLine. The program will bring more activities and events along the river and expand hiking and walking trails.

Huntsville City Schools have high school career academies and career tech education programs at all six high schools and career tech facilities, as well as dual enrollment agreements with colleges and partnerships with several industries. Career tech options range from building science to welding technology to education, all of which have credentialing available. The system offers several magnet schools. Huntsville High School’s Cyber Teams have won several awards this year.

The school system has 52 National Board-Certified teachers and 45 are in the process of becoming certified. It is a 1:1 technology district, and its high schools have received numerous awards.

The system’s $300 million capital plan, from 2013 to 2018, built seven new schools and a major renovation. The most recent school enhancements include sports facilities at Jemison High School, Huntsville High School and Lee High School, a welcome center at Grissom High School and an AAA walkway and protective covering. More are coming in 2021, including athletic facility upgrades at Columbia and Jemison high schools.

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City of Madison
Madison continues to boom with economic growth and quality of life projects. The Town Madison project is progressing off of I-565, and a full interstate interchange close to Zierdt Road is expected to encourage growth nearby. Town Madison, which offers living, shopping, working, dining and entertainment, is under construction.

Anchoring Town Madison is a 7,000-seat multi-use venue that is home to the minor league baseball Rocket City Trash Pandas, corporate gatherings, movies in the park, concerts and more. The 150-room Margaritaville Resort, adjacent to the ballpark, will allow patrons to soak in the lazy river just beyond the outfield. Duluth Trading Co. has announced plans to open nearby, as have an Avid Hotel and a Hilton Garden Inn. A 12-field baseball complex called Pro Player Park is also on the drawing board.

In historic downtown Madison, the Avenues of Madison, a project led by Charlie and Sasha Sealy, is nearing completion, with living spaces, shopping and dining. Homeplace Park is getting a major facelift with landscaping, seating, a performance stage and walking paths adjacent to the Madison city schools stadium. The Publix center and commercial space off Hughes Road is completed, as well as Phase 3 Fitness, and additional dining options are opening soon.

“As mayor and council, we worked hard at the start of our term to get the ball rolling on these major quality-of-life and economic development projects,” says Mayor Paul Finley. “Those projects are now taking physical shape, supported by our strong bond ratings at AA+ from S&P and AA2 from Moody’s.” The tax revenue from the major developments will help infrastructure improvements and support Madison city schools.

Over the last few years, Madison City Schools, the 12th largest school district in Alabama, has about 11,800 students. Each of its 11 schools and Pre-K center earned an A on the Alabama Department of Education report card. Madison City Schools climbed this year from No. 2 to being the No. 1 school system in Alabama rated by NICHE, a national school ranking research group.

Every single MCS school graded tops by NICHE, too, with all seven elementary schools in the top 20 out of 718 public elementary schools statewide. Middle and high schools earned high marks as well. The 2021 NICHE report ranked Discovery Middle No. 1 and Liberty Middle No. 4 out of 390 public middle schools, while Bob Jones High School placed 2nd and James Clemens High School 5th out of Alabama’s 357 public high schools.

Madison City Schools consistently has high test scores, award-winning arts and athletic programs and a broad offering of advanced placement courses and internships. There are also ample electives, opportunities in Career Tech and STEAM, and activities like e-sports, chess and archery.

Career academies in high schools range from introductory courses to internships in engineering, computer science, cybersecurity, green power racing, business, marketing, finance, architecture and construction, culinary, fashion, JROTC and TV production. Students can also pursue industry credentials in areas such as EKG technician, pharmacy technician and medical assisting.

A new elementary school and middle school are under construction to help handle growth of about 300 to 400 students each year. The $38 million Midtown Elementary is scheduled to open in fall 2021 and Journey Middle School will open in fall 2022. Expansions are slated at high schools, special education facilities and pre-K, all funded by a 12-mill property tax approved by voters in 2019.

Both Bob Jones and James Clemens high schools typically make The Washington Post list of “America’s Most Challenging High Schools,” as well as Newsweek’s and NICHE’s national top high school rankings. They also historically produce impressive numbers of National Merit Finalists (25 in 2020) and Presidential Scholars (14 in 2020). Nearly one in every five high-school students scored a 30 or higher on their ACT.

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