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BOE OKs phase out of three buildings

COVINGTON -- Within five years, some of the oldest school buildings in Newton County might not be used as such.

During the monthly work session of the Newton County Board of Education Tuesday night, the board members unanimously approved a resolution to allow the Georgia Department of Education to phase out Newton High School and Ficquett and Palmer Stone elementary schools.

"The phasing out of (the schools) is part of the updating of the district's facilities plan," said Dr. Dennis Carpenter, deputy superintendent for the Newton County School System. "The word 'phase out' is a state Department of Education term that describes the removal of school buildings from the state Department of Education inventory, given that replacing such facilities is more cost effective than bringing them up to current school building specifications."

He said the buildings will no longer qualify for state renovation funding, but NCSS can still use the buildings as it sees fit. He did not say what plans NCSS has developed for the three buildings.

"This component of the building program generates a greater need for classroom space in the district, thus increasing state earnings and financial participation in the district's building program," Carpenter said. "This component of the district's updated five-year facilities plan will also infuse an estimated additional $24 million in state participation into the district's building program; thus decreasing the local dollars needed to fund the program."

Bill Loudermilk, a facilities consultant with the state Department of Education, met with NCSS officials earlier this month to discuss updating their plan to get more state funding.

Carpenter said since NCSS approved the current five-year facilities plan, which ranged from July 1, 2006, to June 30, 2011, student enrollment growth has decreased, in addition to decreases in local and state tax collections and funding.

NCSS has gathered $49.8 million from SPLOST II collections and is decreasing collection estimates from SPLOST III to $49.86 million, as opposed to the $58.8 million it originally expected, Carpenter reported. And 19,419 students are enrolled in NCSS, 278 more than last school year but 89 less than last month, according to a current enrollment report.

According to the resolution, the three phased-out schools will be replaced with a new high school, a new elementary school and additions to existing elementary schools.

In November, NCSS closed on the purchase of more than 80 acres of land in the northwest corner of the county near the intersection of Airport Road and Ga. Highway 142 for more than $1 million. School system officials are planning to construct its 15th elementary school on that site and also have discussed putting a high school or athletic fields there, too.

School board Chair Cathy Dobbs said she doesn't want to disrupt the communities that these schools serve, but the new plan will allow for technology improvements and better facilities for students.

"We really want to do the most we can do with dollars allotted to students in our system ... to bring all of our schools up to a very high standards physically ... and technologically," she said. "We hope we'll have the support of the community when we make this very hard decision."