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NCSS continues planning for career academy

COVINGTON -- Site work and planning continue for the Newton College & Career Academy that is being built on the Newton High School campus.

Earlier this summer, crews started the grading work for the new school, which is being built over an old parking lot near the NHS auditorium and its greenhouses.

While that work is being completed, NCSS officials are continuing plans for construction of the school building later this year.

Architect Robert Cunningham of Cunningham, Forehand, Matthews and Moore Architects Inc. presented a more developed site plan and floor plans to the Newton County Board of Education during its monthly work session last week.

Although some instruction areas were moved around the school after original plans were presented to the school board earlier this year, the basics of the building have remained the same -- it still will be three levels with areas for business, cosmetology, early childhood education, public safety, graphic arts, broadcasting, engineering and manufacturing, health care, horticulture, construction and other areas.

"We met with groups to help organize labs," Cunningham said. "Everything is customized. We spent a lot of time looking at these areas."

Also, a 13,800-square-foot area is expected to be left open on the lower level for future use due to the slope of the land and grading work that was done. With 167,600 square feet of finished space, the extra area will bring the total square footage of the career academy project to 181,100, according to NCSS Deputy Superintendent Dennis Carpenter.

"We were going to have to haul in fill for a slab anyway, so we just move a retaining wall," Cunningham said.

Newton High School Principal Roderick Sams said the site work completed so far hasn't disrupted his school too much.

"It's actually going great," he told school board members last week. "It's worked very well."

He said he had previously met with the architects to discuss the construction's affect on the school. He said the bus flow has worked out well, and parking spots were able to be moved elsewhere.

"It's worked out better than I thought it would," Sams said. "And we have a great transportation department."

Since the new school is being built over a previously used parking lot, NCSS might have to add more parking areas to the NHS campus in the future. Although NHS is expected to move into a new school building over the next few years, there will be at least a year or two of overlapping time when both NHS and the NCCA will operate at the same time.

"We have about 20 empty spaces for students now," Sams said. "But we have possible overflow areas where the band practices that we could use."

James Woodard, director of the Career, Technical and Agricultural Education program at NCSS, also said there is space in front of the school where more parking spaces could be built.

School board Chair Cathy Dobbs said that when the school is opened, students can park at their home schools and ride a shuttle bus to the academy for their classes, so that could alleviate some need for parking.

Cunningham said his company plans to look at parking concerns throughout the entire process.

At this point, Woodard expects anywhere from 300 to 600 students during the first year of operation, which is slated for the 2011-12 school year. Eventually, 1,000 students could take up the space.

NCSS plans to send out invitations for bids on the project during September. After that, Cunningham said his company will meet with the school board and school officials to develop more details and more of a master plan.

As previously decided, the school will be developed using the $3 million in state grant funds awarded to NCSS and DeKalb Technical College as part of the Georgia Career Academy Project, an initiative spearheaded by Georgia Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle in 2007. NCSS also will use $12 million in bonds through the Qualified School Construction Bonds with no interest rate.

"This is an exciting program," said NCSS Superintendent Gary Mathews. "It's giving (students) more choices, whether they are headed to a four-year college or not."