New Bibb ELOST school construction to begin in 2010

Now that Bibb County voters have reauthorized a sales tax collection for education projects through 2015, the school system will start prepping for its next wave of school construction.

Nov. 3, voters elected to fund another five-year education local option sales tax proposal that could raise up to $198.5 million, starting Jan. 1, 2011. Just more than 7,000 of Bibb’s nearly 82,000 registered voters cast ballots.

Building a new Heard Elementary School in south Bibb County and four replacement schools for Barden, Bernd, Jones, Morgan, Porter and Rice elementary schools are among the larger-ticket items.

“We’ll start projects after the first of the year,” school Superintendent Sharon Patterson said of initial financial and school design planning.

But don’t expect to see any actual digging on any of the projects on the list until at least spring, she added.

That’s when middle schools may each get 1,000-square-foot athletic storage spaces and high schools 2,000-square-foot outdoor athletic storage spaces, in addition to field houses.

While a new Heard Elementary has been earmarked as a top priority, school officials will first need to develop education specifications with teachers and the public next year before they could develop actual designs for construction.

Architectural requests for qualifications and proposals would also go out in the new year to screen companies and rate them according to quality, said Brenda Stokes, director of school construction.

In January, the school system will seek to sell bonds, a common practice to bring in funds before the sales tax proceeds roll in, to jump-start studies and any groundwork.

A “cash flow analysis” study would need to be completed to project just how much the new sales tax will provide each month, coinciding with construction projects, Patterson said.

“If you’re going to build a school, you have to know how much will be collected,” she said.

Demographic studies also would have to be conducted next year to determine exactly where to build four replacement schools that would consolidate some students at six aging schools.

By the end of this year, the system plans to finish remaining construction from its 2005 penny sales tax initiative.

That campaign built new Central and Southwest high schools, as well as Howard High School, among other projects.

Items left to complete include landscaping and building a commemorative wall at Southwest High, putting latches on fencing at the Northwoods Academy early childhood center and closing out warranty documents on school items, school officials said.

The school system also will need to pay off its debt from the current ELOST.

As of October, the school system had spent $184.7 million on 2005 projects, with about $30 million left to pay, records show.

“There’s work going to be done soon,” Patterson said. “Obviously, we had very good success with this (ELOST), but the expectations with this next one will be even higher.”

To contact writer Julie Hubbard, call 744-4331.