Bibb school board tours buildings, discusses facility plan

jmink@macon.comFebruary 1, 2014 

BOEtour

Bibb County Board of Education member Tom Hudson, center, talks to other board members at Morgan Elementary School during a tour Saturday.

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When it comes to the Bibb County school system’s facilities, board members have some different ideas.

On Saturday, board of education members toured the schools affected in the proposed five-year facility plan, which calls for the closure and consolidation of some schools. The plan is to construct some new buildings to replace aged, inefficient ones, while combining schools with dwindling student populations.

But while they agreed with some parts of the plan, board members also suggested keeping at least one school that is slated to close, tweaking some consolidations and building one new school at a different site.

The five-year plan is not finalized -- board members will vote on it in late February or March, and then it will go to the state board -- and board members’ ideas were simply suggestions. They will further discuss the plan during upcoming work sessions.

Bernd Elementary School, for example, would close and merge with King-Danforth Elementary School under the proposed plan. But several school board members argued that Bernd should remain open. The school is important to the community -- especially parents who work at nearby companies -- and it’s one of the better-performing schools in the district, some board members argued. Still, the building is plagued with various aging issues. Additionally, its location is not ideal -- many students live miles away, administrators said. Officials suggested building a new Bernd Elementary in a more central location and possibly consolidating other schools into the new building.

“It still needs to be Bernd,” board member Lynn Farmer said. “This school is successful.”

It’s a possibility that will be considered, Superintendent Steve Smith said.

Meanwhile, several board members spoke in favor of a plan to rebuild King-Danforth at its current site. The plan calls for demolishing the school’s old section, but keeping the most recent addition. The school sits on about 28 acres of land.

Some board members advocated for Jones Elementary to then merge with King-Danforth in the new building. King-Danforth and Jones each have fewer than 400 students, a population that is too small, officials said. Board members mentioned possibilities for the Jones building if students move into a new school at King-Danforth, including using it for a recreation center or a Head Start facility.

“I’m really, really set on this idea of bringing Jones and Danforth here,” board member Wanda West said, while standing in the King-Danforth lobby.

Across the county at Morgan Elementary School, several board members said they want the school to relocate to another neighborhood.

The current plan would combine Barden and Morgan elementary schools, an idea the board did not seem to disagree with. But the plan also calls for a new school to be built at Morgan’s current location, and board members spoke in favor of moving it elsewhere. The mostly transient neighborhood is plagued with blight, including decaying houses and homes with gang signs painted on them, they said.

“You’re putting a beautiful (new) building in a declining environment,” board member Tom Hudson said. “It’s putting a school into a slum area.”

Board members drove past nearby land, which could be a possibility for the school, as well as other school sites that could be vacated.

The board also drove by Burghard Elementary and Bloomfield Middle schools. Stopping at Rice Elementary School. Smith said the current idea calls for Burghard and Rice schools to combine and move into Bloomfield.

Bloomfield Middle would then combine with Ballard-Hudson Middle School.

“It’s a lot to absorb and digest,” board Vice President Thelma Dillard said, praising the tour.

“I’m seeing things differently. I’m absorbing things ... because I’m actually out here.”

To contact writer Jenna Mink, call 256-9751.

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