Phased out schools may not be closed

COVINGTON -- Nearly a week after the Newton County Board of Education approved a resolution to allow the Georgia Department of Education to phase out three county schools, school system officials are saying that does not mean the schools will be closed.

"At this time, the district has not made any plans to utilize Newton High School, Palmer-Stone Elementary School or Ficquett Elementary School for anything other than their current uses," said Dr. Dennis Carpenter, Deputy Superintendent for Operations at NCSS in a press release issued Monday. "As we continue to utilize these facilities, any further renovations and repairs will be funded locally, as is the case with Sharp Learning Center, another facility in the district that is no longer on our state facility inventory. Having facilities in use in a school district which are not on the state's inventory is a common practice and districts have been known to continue using these facilities for many, many years based on the needs of the district."

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

NCSS Superintendent Steven Whatley said the Newton County Board of Education approved the phase-out to continue its commitment of providing functional facilities with technology required in today's classrooms. He said NCSS is developing a new five-year facilities plan to serve as a road map for the board's commitment and to infuse about $24 million into state participation funding for NCSS.

"It just made sense to take these steps as we reviewed our future needs," Whatley said in the press release. "Our growth has slowed, and we are near the end of our existing plan, so now was the time to rethink the next facilities plan. The board passed the resolution so that we can move forward, prepare a plan for our new five-year facilities program and have a state facilities study. Once the process and plan are completed, we will determine the order of construction and renovation of schools beyond our currently planned construction of Elementary #15 on property at (Ga. Highway) 142 and Airport Road."

Carpenter said a tentative building program calls for the construction of a new high school to open in the fall of 2013 and additions to such schools as Liberty Middle School, Live Oak Elementary School and South Salem Elementary School with no target dates of completion at this point.

He said it is too early to discuss the naming of any new schools and specifics of staff transfers and other policies and procedures that tend to happen when the schools are constructed.

According to the NCSS Five Year Facilities Plan timeline, this week NCSS architects are working with the Georgia DOE's facilities consultant to develop cost estimates needed to substantiate facility needs in the school system. On March 9, the Newton County BOE plans to adopt a proposed organization plan for NCSS.

NCSS plans to submit its new five-year facilities plan to the state Department of Education for review by March 15, and the school board is expected to adopt the plan in May, after a committee made up of administrators from school districts around the state reviews it. In June, the new plan is expected to be complete and adopted by the Georgia DOE.