Conversation with Superintendent James Woodard

“The Winds of Change”

 

            A Chinese proverb says, “When the winds of change blow, some people build walls, and others build windmills.” The winds of change are certainly gathering in Morgan County, as we pause on the brink of a new era in our school system. But will we build walls in a futile attempt to eliminate change, or will we build windmills to harness the educational power of 21st century learning for our children?

            The irony, of course, is that we want to build both—literally, new bricks and mortar to construct new buildings, toward which end the upcoming one-cent Educational Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax (commonly referred to as ESPLOST) will be essential; we also want to build “windmills,” those centers of creative energy and ideas that will propel our students and graduates toward fulfilling careers and worthy lives. The proposed plan for ESPLOST this November will allow us, as a community, to house school programs both new and traditional, in safe, technological structures that will take us through the next 50 years. These programs and structures will allow us to continue to find new and strong ways to prepare our students for the jobs that they will hold beyond the year 2020, both traditional jobs like manufacturer and cosmetologist and lawyer, and those new jobs that haven’t even been created yet—jobs in technology and science that are even now just a gleam in the eyes of the engineers and scientists of this great nation.

            How best to incorporate these new educational and training facilities into our current landholdings at an affordable price has been the work of our current Morgan County Board of Education for almost a year now. The proposed plans will certainly bring changes to our community. Change can be a wonderful thing, but change can also stir our emotions. It is the Morgan County Board of Education’s strategy that by promoting community knowledge and education about the proposed plans, that—at the very least—residents, students, parents, and other community stakeholders will understand where and why the proposed changes have been brought forth, and why they are likely the best way forward for our current and future generations of students.

            One such change, for example, is the relocation of the middle school to create a more centralized educational campus with our other three schools. The decision to move the middle school is not one that has been made lightly. The current middle school campus is a meaningful place, the home of the Pearl - Burney High School, the city’s original school for African-American students.   

 

One may ask, why would we relocate the middle school and tear down a portion or all of the existing structure? The short answer is that relocating the school gives our system the greatest ability to design facilities that meet the educational demands of the 21st century, while providing a centralized campus that allows for easier collaboration among teachers and students, and quicker and more cost effective access to shared sporting and event facilities. 

 

We came to this conclusion as a part of an on-going and systematic planning process- a process where the Board of Education, in consultation with planning and construction professionals, and in collaboration with the community via stakeholder meetings, completed a detailed facility analysis of every school in the system and processed the findings. In respect to the middle school, what we found was not only were the existing buildings no longer feasible to renovate (average age of buildings is 40 years old), but the construction of a new campus on the existing school site was very difficult as well.

 

The buildable area of the existing site is not large enough to meet the Georgia Department of Education’s guidelines for a new school site. How can that be possible, one may ask, when a school of adequate size is currently in operation? The state formula for a new middle school requires 19.1 acres. And while the overall size of the property owned by the Morgan County Board of Education between Pearl, Garnett, and Eliza Morris Streets approaches this, a high voltage power line bisects the property, running roughly east to west above the middle school practice fields. Although the current structure, because of its age, has been “grandfathered” into permitted use by the Georgia Department of Education, any new structure or gathering places for students would have to allow a 300-foot buffer to the north and the south of the high-powered line [see drawing]. When a site feasibility analysis was completed by our engineer, it was discovered that the usable land for a new campus would be reduced to 4.9 acres—far short of the 19.1 acres that would be required by the Georgia Department of Education. A draft plan of a new school situated on this 5 acres would require a multi-story building directly on Pearl Street—which would compromise the feel of the residential area and provide little outdoor space for practice fields, etc. In addition, efficient and safe bus and car drop-off routes would be very difficult to incorporate. In any case, the size of the site would be a major sticking point and would be highly unlikely to gain approval by the Georgia Department of Education, which must approve the site location.

 

Current Georgia Department of Education Requirements - Acreage Requirement

The minimum useable acreage requirements of the State Board of Education are: Middle School Facilities- 12 acres plus one acre for each 100 students

 

Current Enrollment 710 (9/14/15)

 

Acreage Required: 12 acres plus 7.1 acres (710 students) = 19.1 acres

 

Acreage available after applying Electrical Transmission Line Hazard Distance below: 4.9 acres (See Middle School Site Map)

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