Landowners offer funds for Oxford schools

By Errol Castens/NEMS Daily Journal

OXFORD – A group of landowners could make up a shortfall in funding for the Oxford School District’s capital improvements campaign.
Construction of a new Oxford High School was delayed last month when bids for the project came in $7 million higher than expected, and district officials and related professionals have been scrambling to balance costs and funding. At a March 26 public forum, many audience members asked not to cut facilities from the new school’s plan, asking instead that private fundraising be considered.
Capital improvements already planned include renovations and expansions at most existing campuses.
While members of the public were not invited to speak at the school board’s Thursday review of its options, the Daily Journal learned of a proposal for a major donation from several principals of the Oxford Commons development, which includes the new Oxford High School, Della Davidson Elementary School and the Oxford Conference Center.
Developer Kenneth F. Farrell said he and landowners Murray Avent, Jed Morris, Terry Blount, Ken Ash and Will Lewis have agreed that if Baptist Memorial Hospital builds its new facility and two connecting roads in Oxford Commons, the price of the hospital’s land would be donated to the school district – a sum Farrell estimated at $8 to $11 million.
Memphis-based Baptist Memorial Health Care Corporation bought the existing hospital in Oxford last year from the city of Oxford and Lafayette County. The purchase agreement requires Baptist to build a new regional referral hospital at a cost of at least $250 million within the city limits of Oxford.
Landowners of a different site west of the current hospital have petitioned for inclusion in the city, leading both residents and city officials to presume it to be Baptist’s leading candidate.
Farrell said after he and Morris heard school officials outline the district’s financial quandary, “We realized that we had potential for capacity to address their problem.”
The Oxford Commons representatives acknowledge their offer would benefit both the school district and their real estate venture.
“It makes an investment in this community in the midst of this development,” Morris said. “It yields a return, both for me and the community and the surrounding areas.”
Farrell said locating the hospital at Oxford Commons would allow Oxford High’s allied health sciences students quick access to hands-on learning at the hospital and could also keep the hospital, which is Oxford Electric Department’s biggest customer, within its service area.
errol.castens@journalinc.com