Bibb school board to decide elementary closures

alopez@macon.comDecember 9, 2013 


Cliffard Whitby, center, chairman of the Macon-Bibb County Industrial Authority, shows off the new Central Georgia Technical College gymnasium at the Promise Center to the Bibb County school board Monday prior to a board meeting.


The Bibb County school board has a state deadline of June 2014 to agree on a five-year facility plan, which would lay out which schools stay open and which ones close.

Monday, interim Superintendent Steve Smith presented an updated plan for the school board to consider at a board meeting held at the Promise Center on Anthony Road.

The board voted in 2008 to phase out eight elementary schools, but that plan wasn’t carried out. Smith’s proposed plan, which he worked on with Jason Daniel, executive director of the school system’s capital programs, and Marty Drawhorn, maintenance director, addresses the fate of all eight.

The proposal calls for three or possibly four new elementary school buildings, including the new Heard Elementary where construction already is in progress.

Jones Elementary and Porter Elementary, which were on the phase-out list in 2008, would be kept open. Burghard and King Danforth elementaries would take their place on the phase-out list. The rest of the schools on the proposed plan to be phased out are Barden, Bernd, Heard (in progress) Morgan, Rice and Riley elementaries.

A new elementary school would be built on the King Danforth site, which would absorb the populations of King Danforth and Bernd schools. The school system would have more than $5 million in state funds for that project, and the recommendation calls for construction to begin in May 2014 and for the school to open by August 2015.

Another school would be built at the site of Morgan Elementary, which would consolidate the populations of Morgan and Riley elementaries. More than $3 million in state funds for the project would be available to the school system. Under that plan, construction would begin in May 2015 and the school would open by August 2016. Morgan students would need to be relocated for a year during construction.

In addition to the Heard work that already started, a fourth school could be built in the Bloomfield area to consolidate students at Barden, Burghard and Rice elementaries. There is no state funding available, however, so the project would be entirely dependent on money from a future special purpose local option sales tax.

An alternative idea, presented by Daniel at the board meeting, is to convert Bloomfield Middle into an elementary school and consolidate its population with Ballard-Hudson Middle. The populations of Barden, Burghard and Rice would move to the Bloomfield Middle building.

The start of a process

The school board agreed Monday to discuss Smith’s proposed facility plan in January.

“Dr. Smith has initiated the first stage,” said Wanda West, board president.

Daniel said he has been working with Smith and Drawhorn since September to draw up the plan. They have inspected each site and consulted assistant superintendents for ideas.

“It’s a far-reaching plan,” Daniel said. “It affects the whole county, in a sense, because you are going to have redistricting throughout the elementary schools.”

Daniel said he sees the plan changing.

However, the board does not have much time to work, Smith said, because any school closures will require that parents be notified and that public hearings be held. He said the board needs to agree on a plan by February to make the June state deadline.

Tour of the Promise Center

Before the board members discussed the five-year plan, they were given a tour of the Promise Center building by leaders from Central Georgia Technical College, which uses part of the building for sport and academic programs.

The Promise Center is built on the site of the old Ballard-Hudson school and was a major project during the tenure of former Superintendent Romain Dallemand. The school board is paying $575,000 per year for the next decade to lease half the space.

Daniel said the idea currently being supported for the Promise Center is for vocational programs at Hutchings Career Center to be moved there and for some high school and college dual-enrollment programs to be housed there.

The tour revealed mostly gutted spaces with no floors or furniture.

“This tour shows us that there is still a long way to go to make this ready for use,” board member Jason Downey said. “This is still a shell. It’s still in disarray.”

To contact writer Andres David Lopez, call 744-4382.

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