Superintendent Dr. Mike Hickman told the Board of Education on March 9 that his priority for improving school facilities is building a new 9th grade building. He said the building is the oldest one currently in use for classes in the Monroe County school system.
Hickman said the 9th grade building, known as the freshman campus, was originally built to be a middle school; so its rooms are “smallish” for high school freshmen. He said the present building can serve up to 1,200 students, but he envisions a facility for 1,700 students. Hickman said when Monroe County outgrows that, it will be time to consider building a second high school.
“It’s the lower end of our facilities now,” he said. “It needs to be done fairly quick. Its just getting old.”
Hickman said renovations at the main campus of Mary Persons have the building looking good and building a new freshman campus that will make room for some other specialized classes besides freshman classes, like a business department, should put the school system in good shape for the next few years.
He estimated the cost to build a facility with a cafeteria and other amenities to made the freshman campus self-contained would be about $8 to $9 million. He said he envisions the new College and Career Academy, the freshman campus and the Mary Persons main campus all being within walking distance of one another like a college campus.
Hickman said his second priority for facilities for the future is improvements at the stadium. He said the stadium needs new dressing rooms because there are too many students for the current dressing rooms to accommodate; they are doubled up on lockers. Hickman would like to see a field house that opens up to a plaza look with concessions and restrooms up front and the field house at the other end of the field. Another need is a state of the art weight room for the high school.
He said the other field house, which has a new roof, could be used for visiting teams. Hickman estimates it will cost about $6 million at $200/square foot for the upgrades needed at the stadium. He said E-SPLOST five-year cycles are expected to bring in $23.5 million; if voters were asked to fund a new freshman campus and renovation to the stadium with the next E-SPLOST cycle, that would account for about $16 million of the expected revenue.
Board member Greg Head said the old “1929” gym needs to be torn down. Hickman agreed.
“I think this board can make a mark in this community with this project,” said Hickman. “I don’t want to be, ‘Do what the Joneses do,’ but look at what others around us are doing, even Butts County.”
Hickman said the McCosh estate land that the school system owns next to the high school is probably the most level and best place to build. Head asked that Hickman provide board members with a rendering of his proposed construction so that they can give better input.
“I don’t think all of us know where all our properties are,” he said.
“If we get a population boom, we’ll need a new elementary school and middle school before a high school,” said Hickman.
Head said if they need new elementary schools, they should build them in the northern and southern ends of the county. Board vice chair Nolen Howard said building permits have increased in the county and new subdivisions are being built, indicating more children in the county. Howard said another consideration is that Unit 4 of Plant Scherer may shut down, cutting some of the school system’s funds. Hickman said the units were initially built to operate for 50 years and the first one has already operated over 40 years. He said the current E-SPLOST cycle ends in April 2024.
“It’s always a challenge between what you want and what you can afford,” said Hickman.
Assistant superintendent Jackson Daniel said the school system needs to go to the voters for another E-SPLOST before 2024 to keep from have a gap in revenue collection. He suggested having a referendum in 2022 and bonding the expected revenue to get started with projects. He said the expected $23.5-$24 million for a five-year E-SPLOST cycle might increase.
Daniel said other options would be general obligation funds, which could be done through the Monroe County Commissioners or pay-as-you-go. He said state approval is required and it is probably best to look at E-SPLOST first.
Daniel said in envisioning the big projects, the board has to keep in mind there will be smaller projects of immediate need that have to be funded. He said the school system earns funds from the state according to number of students enrolled and the age of school buildings.