Conversation with Superintendent James Woodard

“The Winds of Change - Why Now?”

 

            We discussed a few weeks ago the “Winds of Change” regarding the upcoming Education Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax vote and the implication on future facility planning for Morgan County Schools. As I have made multiple informational presentations to many groups throughout Morgan County, several questions have been asked by the citizens. One question which has resonated throughout many conversations has been, “Why now?” This question is very valid considering the alignment of the facility plans with the current election for the continuation of ESPLOST.

            As we began the consideration of building a College and Career Academy, the question was asked, “Where do we put the building?” We quickly recognized that correct placement of a College and Career Academy could maximize the use of such a facility for a majority of our students. We also recognized that long range planning would be critical to maximizing participation and outcomes of the College and Career Academy. Therefore, rather than just picking a spot, we designed and began implementing a master planning process. This planning process was facilitated through a local civil engineering company - Georgia Civil, Inc..

            The master planning process sought to ask questions about our current land holdings, current facilities, and direction for the future. During this process six themes surfaced which became the focus areas of our planning. These focus areas included the following:

1.      Students and staff safety and security,

2.      Student and staff health issues,

3.      Programming opportunities,

4.      Building life cycle and efficiency cost,

5.      Fiscal responsibility,

6.      Traffic flow concerns.

Today’s educational environment requires us to think differently about student safety and school security. The most obvious reason to identify the high school and middle school as possibilities for replacement is the layout of the two campuses. Both campuses have multiple entrances(upwards of 10 at the middle school and 20 at the high school) . The campuses are laid out in such a manner that protecting students from potential threats is almost impossible. School campus plans of the future are designed to limit entry points in order to minimize locations for intruders and to provide opportunities to better protect entrances.

Campus layouts are also designed to better consider external and internal traffic patterns (students, employees, parents, buses), safety and security factors, protection of students from the elements, external lighting, and landscaping practices. All of these factors help minimize a threat to our students.

The health of our students and staff is at the top of the list for concern. Air quality standards have become more of a focus in recent years. Many more asthmatic issues exist today in students and adults. The issue of molds generated throughout various parts of the buildings should be a concern to be dealt with sooner rather than later. 

We also know that many of our buildings are very old. Most buildings built in the 50’s and 60’s had a 25-30 year life cycle. The majority of the buildings at the middle school were built in the 50’s and 60’s (refer to layout). Since the 1940’s, a point of interest for the high school is that a different building has been added in every decade (refer to layout). This type of building layout contributes to a very complex maintenance plan. Buildings have different electrical, plumbing, heating/air, and roof systems which require different components to manage. The addition of technology to existing buildings (built when technology didn’t exist) further complicates the situation. Studies have identified infrastructure issues which exist in many of our facilities. Some issues include: squirrels/rodents in ceilings, dips in hallways and other accessibility issues, disintegrating cast iron plumbing, aging alarm systems, and antiquated electrical and HVAC systems. While some of the issues can be replaced or repaired, some issues are deep infrastructural issues which become very costly to correct. And at the end of day, infractures are in place which were not designed to last forever. The question becomes, “Should we pay now or pay later?”

Long term efficiency is also a focus of the plan. The building components which exist today are much more efficient than 40, 30, or even 20 years ago. Electrical, lighting, plumbing, heating/air systems are designed with higher standards of efficiency. These efficiencies can help decrease the overall cost of utilities. Security systems are designed to be quicker in response time. The forthcoming efforts in “Green” Technology can be better incorporated in the design and layout process.

While this conversation is focused on safety, security, health, building life cycle, and efficiency cost, you might ask, “How will this be paid for?” ESPLOST serves as a single funding source (beyond local property tax) to assist school districts in meeting the growing need to upgrade facilities, pay for new buses, and purchase technology. Every five years ESPLOST has to be renewed by the voters of the county. The ESPLOST Referendum has to outline the intended uses of the funds collected.

Our system has been very conservative in the use of ESPLOST funds and has focused on upgrading facilities, purchasing technology and buses. However, given the current state of our buildings (as described above) the board felt the need to invest in new buildings. 

Building new facilities also changes the funding we receive from the Georgia Department of Education. Currently we earn a small amount for purposes of major renovations; however, our funding level changes when building new buildings. For example, our projected funding changes from $2.3 to $21.5 million for building new. Basically, the state encourages local systems to build new when possible. 

Our system is also committed to the building of a college and career academy. We have made application for a $3,000,000 Georgia Technical College System Grant. This grant coupled with current ESPLOST earnings (ESPLOST IV) will provide another major opportunity to increase the Career/Technical (Vocational) programs for our students. 

 

Estimated Funding Package for New High School, New Middle School,

Career Academy, Transportation Barn

 

State Earnings for New Facilities                $21,573,620*

Career Academy Grant                               $3,000,000

GADOE Equipment Grants                         $588,000

In-Kind                                                         $263,163

ESPLOST (IV, V, and VI)                           $31,338,615

Total                                                            $56,763,398

 

            * We would earn a projected $2,393,491 if we continue a focus on renovation.

 

The packaging of these funding sources will help create a funding source which will eliminate the potential for use of property taxes to fund two new facilities.   The $56.7 represents the total funds needed to complete all projects in the next five years. To pursue the project in a timeframe to minimize rising construction costs, $27 million in bonds is being proposed.

In summary, the funding ratio for this building package will be 45% State funds and 55% ESPLOST. Local estimates project that 50% of ESPLOST revenues come from tourism and the 441/I-20 transportation interchange. The BOE feels that this will eliminate (at least minimize) the chance that we will have to raise property taxes while providing our young people new schools which will meet our demands for the next 30+ years. Within this funding formula are funds to continue to renovate the primary and elementary school, purchase buses, and technology. In other words, we are not using all of the funds for facilities.

In conclusion, your elected Board of Education members hope that you will understand the possibility of upgrading our facilities for the purpose of safety, security, health, and building efficiencies. They hope that you will join them in building more efficient windmills that will harness the best ideas and opportunities in education that we can offer our children.   These windmills will be better designed to keep our students and staff safe and secure, allowing them to learn and work in 21st century facilities.

For even more information, please take time to review the Facilities Tab on our Morgan County Charter School System Website at: http://www.morgan.k12.ga.us.

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