Many Decatur residents and leaders sense the city is on the edge of breakthrough growth.
The public school system, challenged by difficult demographics and ageing facilities, is one of the main obstacles. A major step in the effort to reform schools will take place at a work session today in which the school board and public will receive a report from the Decatur City Schools Foundation.
Optimism about the city's future is well founded.
Decatur has been effective at recruiting industry for generations, and its success has accelerated in recent years. Many industries along the Tennessee River are expanding, and some new ones are near completion.
The retail sector has been a weakness in the city for years, but that is changing. A mall that seemed on the verge of collapse has new life with the imminent construction of a state-of-the-art movie theater. New restaurants and department stores throughout the city, combined with the resurgent mall, are slowing the drain of sales to Madison County. Beltline Road, which had become so congested it was impeding development, is undergoing a major overhaul.
Recreational opportunities abound, with Ingalls Harbor and its recently built pavilion attracting sporting enthusiasts from miles away. Investments in soccer fields, tennis courts, the aquatic center, a campground and even an archery park have increased Decatur's exposure, attracting thousands of visitors each year.
Persistent attention by the public and private sectors gave birth to a downtown renaissance that seemed impossible a decade ago. The Alabama Center for the Arts and new eateries attract people to the city's center, and not just on weekdays.
With all this activity, though, Decatur struggles to attract new residents. One of the main obstacles is the school system.
During the past couple of months, Decatur City Schools has been aggressive in collecting input from residents regarding a strategic plan. More than 700 residents participated in meetings and an online survey. The information compiled from the residents will be released today at 5:30 p.m. at Leon Sheffield Magnet Elementary School, at 801 Wilson St. N.E.
Improving the school system is not the only hurdle that confronts Decatur, but residents and leaders are nearly unanimous in recognizing that it is a major one. Everyone who wants the city to grow — not just in population but in quality of life — should consider attending tonight's meeting.
The success of the city is intertwined with that of its school system, and tonight's meeting will be a major step in determining the future of both.
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