An inviting school environment can make all the difference in motivating students to learn. Just ask Williams Elementary School Principal Shandrina Griffin-Stewart.
About noon Friday, students lined up for lunch in the hallway with cheery yellow walls.
“It’s bright, like a crayon box,” Griffin-Stewart said. “If it’s inviting and bright, they’ll be happy to learn.”
Last year, those walls were gray, she said. The cafeteria nearby has been revamped, too, with restaurant-style seating and music and signs emphasizing character traits like honesty, creativity and friendship.
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Williams is getting new paint, a revamped media center and other renovations, thanks to an education special purpose local option sales tax that can raise up to $198.5 million over five years and funding a number of projects throughout Bibb County schools.
The upgrades at Williams, along with others at Union Elementary, are expected to cost about $7.3 million.
With the current penny tax, which runs through 2015, there are also plans to build five new elementary schools, including replacing Heard Elementary, one of the oldest buildings in the district. Major improvements to athletic facilities at the system’s high schools are also under way with the money.
With construction projects taking place during the past decade in Bibb County schools, the average age of a school building in the system decreased from 36 years before a 2000 education penny sales tax initiative took effect, to 24 years after the end of the 2005 SPLOST. The previous SPLOST included new facilities for Northwoods Academy, Ingram-Pye Elementary, Ballard-Hudson Middle, and Central, Howard and Southwest high schools.
The construction of new facilities has also reduced the number of mobile classrooms from more than 100 to 68.
“It’s the mission of the construction department to provide the best learning environment that we can provide,” said Brenda Stokes, Bibb County’s director of construction.
Outside the classroom, the high school athletic facilities improvements are estimated to cost about $11 million.
Construction is under way at Howard High School for several athletic facilities, including a field house for its football team, as well as a new tennis court, baseball and softball fields and other facilities, to add to its existing practice fields.
Central, Northeast and Southwest are also getting new field houses, though there are athletic improvements going on at each high school.
“It does build a sense of community pride when you have a venue where parents and supporters can come and support student athletes,” Howard Principal Matt Adams said. Rutland High School is getting a new soccer field, a track and tennis courts, an athletic storage building, concession stands, restrooms and air conditioning in the gym.
“We’re very excited with the work that’s going on out here,” Rutland High Principal Jerri Hall said.
Once the new facilities are completed in October, students will have more space for sports directly on campus. Tennis students, for example, have had to play at Tattnall Square Park. Soon, they’ll be able to stay at school.
“You don’t have to go off-campus,” Hall said. “More students will participate in activities. We’ll get more fans to come out to the games.”
Not only do the school building improvements impact students, they also make a difference in the areas where they’re located.
Elam Alexander Academy moved into its new home on Second Street for the start of the school year at the site of the former Burke Elementary. The renovations for the school for students with special needs in Bibb and surrounding counties cost about $3.7 million. Additional security and driveway improvements bring the number to $4.8 million.
Taking the example from Ingram-Pye Elementary, Elam Alexander director Lara Sims hopes that her school can have an impact on the local community as well, through initiatives such as a community garden.
“They’re learning that we’re here, that we’re excited about being here,” Sims said.
Since the new Ingram-Pye school opened several years ago, students have taken pride in their school, and in the community as well, Stokes said.
“If we can, through our buildings, create pride in the community, then I think we’ve done Macon and Bibb County a service.”
To contact writer Andrea Castillo, call 744-4331.