Officials declare 7 Bibb schools are outdated, will be torn down

It’s time to tear down seven aging Bibb County elementary schools and build five new ones by 2014, Bibb County school officials proposed Thursday.

Administrators told the school board at a committee meeting that the school system needs to “phase out” several school buildings between 50 to 60 years old when the district submits its upcoming facility needs report to the state.

School systems are required to submit the report every five years in order to get state funding for new school building projects, called capital outlay.

The elementary schools marked unusable in the next five years are Barden, Bernd, Burke, Jones, Morgan, Porter and Rice. The Burke building was already set to close this fall.

“Inventory is constantly moving on a treadmill and getting older,” Superintendent Sharon Patterson said of the system’s facilities.

It would cost more to repair the buildings than build new ones. The schools also have outdated designs and sit in awkward landscapes, officials said.

System officials also consider three additional Bibb elementary schools, Hamilton which has closed, and Heard and Riley, as no longer functional.

Those schools were on a previous phase out list, but the system has not had funding to rebuild Heard and Riley.

As a result of Thursday’s declaration to phase out the schools, school officials also proposed building a new Heard Elementary and four other new elementary schools within the next five years.

It will mean some of these “phase out” schools will be consolidated.

“It is in the best interest of the school district to consolidate some schools in the future” to be cost efficient, Patterson said.

School administrators called the move “bold,” given the system is currently rebuilding Central High and Southwest High, a new Early Childhood Center and renovating Ingram-Pye Elementary. The system also opened the new Howard High this past fall.

“Approving a proposed organization that includes phasing out seven elementary schools and construction of five new schools may be considered a bold move, and it is,” Bob Flowers, the school system’s capital improvement administrator, told school board members. “It is, however, very consistent with the board’s previous actions to provide the best high performance facilities possible for our students and teachers to better align our facilities to enrollment projections and to maintain inventory of energy-efficient, low-maintenance facilities that reduce the burden on our strained operating budget.”

How much five new schools would cost would be determined at a later date. State capital outlay money would not cover the entire construction expense, Flowers also said.

Neither Flowers or Patterson would comment on whether the school system would ask for a penny sales tax continuation to fund them. Patterson did say the school system could issue bonds to generate money. The school system’s general operating budget alone would not be able to fund the projects, she said.

A new building was good news to at least one of the principals.

“In our foyer area, the tile seen is original tile from 1954,” said Barden Elementary principal Jacqueline Jackson. “They’ve taken good care of the building. It will definitely be exciting” to see a new one. Some school board members, including Ella Carter, expressed concern that some of the schools would likely be merged.

“I have a real concern,” said Carter, who lives near Jones Elementary and used to be a principal there.

School officials said those decisions are years away.

“You are not being asked today to close the schools, you’re being asked to replace the facilities,” Flowers said. The board voted unanimously in committee to approve the 2009-2014 facilities plan.

In other news, the school board heard a proposal to start an ombudsman program for students who are suspended or expelled and plan to hear more details at a later date.

The board approved asking the state for waivers for 16 elementary classrooms in several schools which are over the maximum class size by one or two students.

Without the waiver, it would require hiring 16 additional teachers costing the system about $1 million. The board also approved its sixth general budget amendment to reflect a recent savings to the system after approving a 2-percent pay cut for 561 employees. The system now plans to collect $174.9 million in revenue and spend $183 million, using its reserve to make up the difference. The system predicts it will have a $9 million reserve balance at the end of this fiscal year June 30.

To contact writer Julie Hubbard, call 744-4331.