Education

Bibb schools race to complete sales tax projects

With fewer than three weeks before school starts, the Bibb County school district is in a “mad dash to the finish line” to complete a grab bag of capital projects.

The renovation and construction projects nearing completion include the new Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Veterans elementary schools, the Dr. Robert J. Williams Complex at Ballard-Hudson -- formerly known as the Promise Center -- as well as the Bloomfield middle-to-elementary school conversion and a few others.

The new MLK, which will combine students from Jones and King-Danforth elementary schools for the 2015-16 school year, is now putting in furniture and technology equipment for students to use this fall.

Jason Daniel, executive director of capital programs, said the district’s newest elementary school will be ready for students come Aug. 3.

The conversion of Bloomfield from a middle to an elementary school is coming together.

“We’re getting near the end,” Daniel said. “On Monday, we’re going to start moving furniture and teachers’ materials back into the building.”

Except for the new construction of Veterans Elementary School, which will combine Barden and Morgan elementary students and is scheduled to open in August 2016, the majority of the school system’s improvement projects consist of building modifications or renovations.

The upgrades include: new flooring, paint and playground equipment -- as well as roof and HVAC replacements -- at Porter, Bernd and Riley elementary schools.

THE ‘NEW’ PROMISE CENTER AND ESPLOST

Renovations of the Williams Complex, originally expected to be finished by August, are now expected to be completed sometime in December.

“We pushed it back to allow for proper design time and to allow for enough time to build and have it 100 percent ready before we move in,” Daniel said.

That building will house a collaboration between Hutchings College and Career Academy and Central Georgia Technical College.

Last year, the new program was awarded a $3.11 million grant from the state to help fund the Hutchings partnership with CGTC and create a satellite program -- part dual enrollment and part technical certification training -- at the Anthony Road center.

The grant is being used to renovate the Williams Complex and expand the new vocational program, which will provide Bibb high school students dozens of opportunities to obtain real-world experience and earn college credit too.

While the occasional state grant can boost a school district’s capital improvement projects, the penny sales tax for local education projects gets more work done, officials said.

“The more ideal situation is to have capital improvement dollars to make improvements to these older facilities,” Daniel said.

The 2010-15 sales tax initiative, passed by voters in November 2009, is expected to raise a total of about $159 million before it expires at the end of this year. Last month, the school board approved a new ESPLOST referendum for voters this fall.

“The Board of Elections adopted the referendum, and preparations are underway to get that question on the ballot for Nov. 3,” Daniel said.

Voters’ perceptions, however, could be a hurdle in getting the new education sales tax passed. An audit of the school system under former Superintendent Romain Dallemand showed that millions of dollars from sales tax proceeds were spent on questionable technology purchases.

Without ESPLOST funding, Daniel said projects will get put on hold as the district tries to make do with a limited general fund.

“The projects we’re doing now are currently being funded with the ESPLOST, and we’re asking for a continuation of this 1-cent sales tax to continue doing these similar-type projects for the next five years,” he said.

To contact writer David Schick, call 744-4382.

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