Bibb BOE discusses make-up weather days, facilities plan

jmink@macon.comFebruary 10, 2014 

As more winter weather is predicted to hit the area this week, Bibb schools will not decide how to make up snow days until later this month, interim Superintendent Steve Smith said Monday during a called school board meeting.

But there might be no need to make up any days after all. The Georgia Department of Education is submitting a proposal to the state school board, which states that school systems should not be required to make up days missed during a declared state of emergency.

Smith has recommended that Bibb schools make up two days -- the district is currently required to make up one day -- but, if the state board approves the proposal, Bibb might not have to make up any days, he said.

The district recently launched a make-up day survey. Many people wrote in that they preferred going to school March 17, which is currently a furlough day, and then adding a day onto the end of the year. That was not even an option on the survey, Smith said.

Bibb County school officials will announce by noon Tuesday whether the school system will be closed on Wednesday. If the system does close, it would make the third time in just over a month that Bibb County schools have been closed because of the cold or winter storms.

Facilities plan

Smith has tweaked his five-year facilities plan recommendation, which now saves Bernd Elementary and merges King-Danforth and Jones elementary schools.

Under his new suggestion, Bernd would remain open; King-Danforth and Jones would merge into a new building at the current King-Danforth site; Morgan and Barden elementary schools would merge into a new building at the current Morgan site; Rice and Burghard would consolidate into the current Bloomfield Middle School, and Bloomfield would merge with Ballard-Hudson Middle School.

Board members discussed Smith’s recommendation but took no action on it. They will vote on the plan by late February or early March, but they can still make changes after the plan is finalized, they said.

Smith and several board members changed their minds about parts of the original plan after recently touring the affected schools. Many spoke in favor of keeping Bernd Elementary, which originally was slated to close. Students perform well there, and it’s important to the community, board members said.

“I’ve become very passionate about keeping Bernd,” board member Wanda West said. “We have so much going on there.”

Still, the building is aged. Bernd, Porter and Riley elementary schools will at least need some extensive renovations, said facilities director Jason Daniel. Smith said Bernd likely will need a new building in the future.

“Bernd is living on borrowed time,” Smith said. “Bernd was built during World War II. ... There comes a point of no return where if you want to preserve it, you may have to rebuild it.”

The current building will probably work for the next five years, but school officials will then need to discuss a new Bernd building, Smith said. The Morgan-Barden merger would happen in about a year, and a new school would be built at the current Morgan site, under Smith’s plan.

While touring Morgan, some board members discussed building the new school elsewhere due to neighborhood issues, particularly blight. Two audience members spoke in favor of building the new Morgan-Barden school at the current Morgan site, arguing the neighborhood is safe with a strong sense of community.

Some board members agreed, saying declining neighborhoods often improve when new buildings are constructed there.

If Smith’s recommendation is approved, King-Danforth and Jones would begin merging into a new building as soon as possible, Daniel said. Board member Lester Miller said the Jones Elementary community is “very passionate” about the change, and many are concerned about their children crossing a busy roadway to get to school. Additionally, there are concerns about how the Jones property would be used, he said. Transportation would be provided for those students, Smith said, and an entity already is interested in the Jones property.

“The long-range plan would not involve leaving that building empty,” he said.

In about two years, Burghard and Rice elementary schools would combine and move into the current Bloomfield Middle School. Meanwhile, Bloomfield would consolidate with Ballard-Hudson Middle School.

“It would still make that middle school the smallest middle school in Bibb County,” Smith said, “and the current facility could accommodate that.”

To contact writer Jenna Mink, call 256-9751.

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