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BOE OKs site work for facility

COVINGTON -- The Newton County School System is on its way to starting the Newton College and Career Academy.

After hearing a presentation in late March about plans to house the academy at an addition to Newton High School, the Newton County Board of Education members unanimously approved site work and grading for the project this week.

At its monthly work session Tuesday, the board approved a recommendation by Superintendent Steven Whatley for low bidder Charles Sullivan Construction of Homer to complete the site work and grading for $364,000. NCSS architects previously have worked with the company in the Gwinnett area, according to Dennis Carpenter, deputy superintendent at NCSS.

The highest bid for the project came from Sunbelt Builders of Covington for more than $493,000, and three others ranged between $388,700 and $431,000. The project was expected to cost between $300,000 and $450,000.

Originally, the academy was set to open in time for fall 2011, but now NCSS plans to open the site in January 2012.

"After attempts to secure various sites stalled, the district began investigating the construction of the NCCA on the campus of Newton High School," Whatley said in a memo to board members. "As part of this aggressive timeline, the district is bidding the site work for the NCCA separately from the construction of the NCCA in an effort to expedite the construction process. With site work beginning as early as next week, all grading should be completed prior to the construction contract being awarded and construction beginning August 2010."

In early December, Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle announced that the state board of the Technical College System of Georgia approved an award of $3.050 million in state grant funds to NCSS and funds to six other school systems in Georgia as part of the state Career Academy Project, an initiative spearheaded by Cagle in 2007. NCSS officials said the award will be used in conjunction with DeKalb Technical College to help develop the academy.

In March, architect Robert Cunningham of Cunningham, Forehand, Matthews and Moore Architects Inc. presented site and building plans to the school board members and system officials, showing it as a feasible plan that would not disrupt the NHS atmosphere in an extreme manner.

The company developed plans that placed the 159,000-square-foot addition over a current parking lot near the private drive that leads to the school's agriculture greenhouses and barn behind the school and its auditorium.

The building is expected to have three levels -- a main level, an upper level and a lower level -- and is separate from the current NHS building.

The main level could include such areas as an administration area and media center; an area that includes a career center, a work-based learning space and a small business startup space; a cosmetology room; an early childhood center and outside play yard; a marketing area with a school store; a public safety area for emergency, fire and law enforcement classes; a broadcast video and graphic arts center; and a kitchen area with classrooms and a dining space.

The level also would house a 250-seat auditorium, which is built more like a lecture hall similar to the one housed at the Rockdale Career Academy in Conyers with tables and computer station hookups that the school often leases to area companies, businesses and community organizations.

The upper level includes several classrooms for health care, physical education, engineering and manufacturing, sciences, computer and media courses, as well as a naturally lit open atrium in view of the dining and auditorium spaces alongside the upper atrium concourse.

The lower level, which is in line with the present barn and greenhouses, could house horticulture, veterinarian science, construction and transportation areas; it was designed to be used for after-hours work.

The current parking area will be relocated.

NCSS plans to build a replacement high school for Newton High School by the fall 2013, as the current building is expected to be phased out of state funding. Just as NCSS has retained the phased-out Sharp Learning Center and leased it out for special programs, school system officials have said they also could retain the current NHS building but it would not receive state funds to pay for renovations.

At the school board's monthly meeting on Tuesday, the members expect to approve the process to search for a board of directors of the academy.

"We do need to get moving on it," said Linda Hayden, associate superintendent for curriculum and instruction at NCSS, to board members during their work session. "We have much work to do."

The board of directors will govern the organization under the direction and guidance of the school board, Hayden said. They will rotate on two- and three-year terms.

Board members said they have developed a list of names of individuals who might want to serve on the board and plan to develop biographies for each and contact each of them to determine who could serve on the board. Hayden said she would like the board of directors to assume responsibility of NCCA on July 1.

"I want someone who will be committed and not involved in too many activities already," said school board member Almond Turner.

The school board's monthly meeting is scheduled to begin at 7 p.m. Tuesday in the board room of the Newton County BOE building at 2109 Newton Drive NE in Covington.