NCSS eyes addition to school

COVINGTON -- The Newton County School System is considering the placement of the county's proposed college and career academy as an addition to the current Newton High School facility.

At the Newton County Board of Education's March work session earlier this month, architect Robert Cunningham of Cunningham, Forehand, Matthews and Moore Architects Inc. presented site and building plans to the school board members and system officials, proving it as a feasible plan that would not disrupt the school atmosphere in an extreme manner.

"Given the concerns for moving forward with the career academy, we wanted to schematically show it could be located on the Newton High School campus ... and to conceptually show the kinds of programs that would be offered," NCSS Superintendent Steven Whatley said. "This idea was presented so we can go forward and start work on the real design and put it out for bid later in this year."

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.

"Much of this (space) is paved with a gradually sloping surface," Whatley said. "In the past, we have located 14 to 18 portable classrooms" in the space.

Cunningham said this was the best location that wouldn't disturb most of the school while classes were in session while the building was under construction. The nearby parking lot also could be used as contractor storage and parking, and the private drive could be used for much of the construction-related traffic, he said.

"It will fit in there and allow school to continue," Cunningham said. "It really works out very nice."

The proposed building has 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 start up 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 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 green houses, could house horticulture, veterinarian science, construction and transportation areas; it was designed to be used for after-hour work.

Cunningham said that while some school construction work is known to be extremely disruptive, this project is a fairly less disruptive type of work, as it is a completely separate building.

Noise from construction would be a factor at times, Cunningham said.

The parking area would have to be relocated, but it is not as heavily used as the parking area near the gym and band rooms. If the project is approved, the school would relocate parking spaces at the beginning of the school year, said NCSS Deputy Superintendent Dennis Carpenter.

NCSS has not announced a price or timeline for the building of a college and career academy, but January 2012 is the tentative start date for the program. In December, the state board of the Technical College System of Georgia approved an award of $3.05 million in state grant funds to NCSS under the state Career Academy Project, an initiative spearheaded by Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle in 2007.

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. As with retaining the phased out Sharp Learning Center and leased it out for special programs, school system officials have said it also could retain the current NHS building but it would not receive state funds to pay for renovations.