Bibb BOE buys Promise Center for $8.5 million

The Bibb County school board voted 5-3 Tuesday to buy the Promise Center, the centerpiece of the Promise Neighborhood initiative, for $8.5 million.

As part of the deal with the Central Georgia Partnership for Individual and Community Development Inc., which owns the center, the school system also will give the group what was the former Eugenia Hamilton Elementary School. That property, valued at $100,000, needs serious renovation and would cost $400,000 to demolish, interim Superintendent Steve Smith said.

Board members Lynn Farmer, Tom Hudson, Ella Carter, Wanda West and Thelma Dillard voted for the measure.

Board members Jason Downey, Lester Miller and Sue Sipe opposed the deal. Downey distributed a one-page news release that explained their opposition.

“The previous board committed the system to a 10-year lease on the Promise Center, resulting in payments that would total well over $15 million dollars at the end of the term if the purchase option was exercised,” the statement reads. “We believe that there were serious questions about the validity of the lease between the Board of Education and the former owners. However, a majority of this board chose not to pursue any legal action regarding the lease.”

The statement noted that the district originally sold the building to the partnership for $220,000, but then entered a 10-year lease requiring the school system to pay $575,000 to rent part of the building.

But Smith said the deal is a good one for the district, especially long-term. Counting the rent owed, payments that were already made and the need for future improvements, it ultimately would have cost the system $19.4 million to buy the building at the end of the lease.

Instead, Smith said the district will be saving money by not paying rent. In addition, the state awarded a grant of $3.1 million to the district last week that will be applied to the purchase of the property, which is valued by the Bibb County Board of Tax Assessors at about $8.45 million. However, Smith said, the grant is only good if the school system owns the property.

“It was the fiscally responsible thing to do,” Smith said, noting that the district also has money from a penny sales tax to help offset the acquisition cost.

Smith said the district enjoys a solid partnership with Central Georgia Technical College at the Promise Center, and the deal will only expand upon that.

“Both of us will really benefit,” he said. “It will offer a lot more opportunities for our students.”

The Promise Neighborhood project has been a source of controversy ever since its creation in July 2012. The center, at 1780 Anthony Road, is the former Ballard-Hudson Middle School building. Many in the community were angered when the district elected to rent the building back after selling it to the partnership at a fraction of the cost under then Superintendent Romain Dallemand.

Much of the commitments made by the district to the partnership were made by Dallemand and then-school board President Tommy Barnes, without the prior review of the full school board. Records showed that Dallemand had made a $19.3 million commitment to the project in cash and in-kind services.

Downey’s statement said the three opposing board members are willing to work with the rest of the board on the Promise Center.

“While the three of us stood in opposition earlier, we stand together with the board moving forward in working to make the most out of a situation we believe is not optimal,” it read.

Information from Telegraph archives was used in this report. To contact writer Phillip Ramati, call 744-4334.