Major face-lifts underway in Houston schools

jmink@macon.comJuly 21, 2013 

WARNER ROBINS -- Instead of school buses, the Linwood Elementary School parking lot is packed with Dumpsters and construction trucks.

Inside the aged building, workers have stripped floors and knocked down walls. Still, the front sign spells out school news, and playground equipment sits near the side of the building -- indications that students will one day return.

The Linwood reconstruction is part of a string of projects aimed at creating new schools and improving existing ones. When school begins Aug. 1, some students will be in a new facility, while others will notice building face-lifts.

Workers have completed the new C.B. Watson Primary School, which sits on Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard near McConnell-Talbert Stadium. The $12.6 million school will hold about 600 students. Linwood Elementary students will temporarily move into the new C.B. Watson building for this school year, while workers complete the $8.8 million renovations at Linwood.

It’s one step in a lengthy renovation process, which is part of the district’s education sales tax plan. By August 2014, that process is expected to yield two new schools and one major school renovation. Additionally, crews have spent the summer completing minor work on several schools, as well as an extensive renovation of McConnell-Talbert Stadium.

“It’s very busy,” said Jason Daniel, director of facilities for Houston County schools. “We’ve got a bunch of projects going, and you’ve got that beginning of school deadline you’re working toward.”

When the Linwood renovations are completed next school year, the Linwood and Pearl Stephens elementary school districts will merge. Preschool through second grade will be at the new C.B. Watson school, and third through fifth grade will be at the renovated Linwood building, which will be renamed Pearl Stephens Elementary School.

The board of education voted in 2012 to transfer the Pearl Stephens name to the renovated, former Linwood school. Stephens’ family members had argued against an original plan to use the name for the district alternative school, which will relocate to the current Pearl Stephens building.

After the Linwood and Pearl Stephens schools merge, the current Pearl Stephens Elementary will be empty. Next school year, the district alternative school will vacate Rumble Academy on South Davis Drive and move into the vacant building. Rumble Academy will then be demolished in August 2014, according to district plans.

And those are not the only big moves planned for the 2014-15 school year. Another new school, Langston Road Elementary in Perry, is scheduled to be completed in August 2014. The new school will replace Perry Primary, but it will host a melting pot of students from various schools, which will be rezoned, Daniel said. The $14 million building will hold about 750 students.

“We’re just very proud that we were able to build a brand new school in that section of town to show our folks in that community,” board Chairwoman Marianne Melnick said. “Hopefully, that will bring some pride and respect to our students who attend those schools.”

Work began about three weeks ago at the new school, and workers are moving dirt to prepare the construction site, Daniel said.

Stadium, school renovations

While some upgrades will not be finished until next school year, others are nearly completed for the upcoming session. About $3 million in stadium renovations are 95 percent complete. Workers are scheduled to begin installing the stadium’s new track about Wednesday, Daniel said.

The renovations also include a visitor’s side press box, handicap seating and accessibility improvements, restroom improvements, new lights and an underground storm water piping repair, according to district documents.

“It’s long overdue with such a football tradition we have in our county,” Melnick said. “We’re excited to open football season with a brand new facade.”

Workers are wrapping up heating and air conditioning replacements at 11 schools, as well as hallway renovations at several schools, where crews are replacing carpet with tile floors, Daniel said. The board approved in April hallway renovations at Miller, Parkwood, Russell, Pearl Stephens, Tucker and Westside elementary schools, and Perry and Feagin Mill middle schools, at a cost of more than $737,000.

Additionally, as part of new safety measures, workers are installing security vestibules in several schools. The vestibules will force visitors to go through the front office before entering a school.

In March, the board approved a nearly $795,000 contract for security vestibules in 14 elementary schools.

“We’re working on many, many things,” Daniel said.

To contact writer Jenna Mink, call 256-9751.

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