BOE member Johnson frustrated facilities plan does not include building demolition

COVINGTON — Newton County Board of Education member Eddie Johnson expressed frustration Tuesday that the demolition of two vacant school buildings wasn’t included in the school system’s five-year facilities plan. Other board members, however, said they believe improvements to 15 existing schools are more pressing.

When the facilities plan was brought forward for a vote, Johnson asked why there were no plans to raze the former Sharp School on Newton Drive and the old Newton High School on Ram Drive.

According to a memorandum prepared for the BOE, a team worked for 18 months to develop a comprehensive evaluation of all school system facilities and grounds. While NCSS will not have the funds for new construction, improvements and modifications for 15 existing schools were outlined. For example, some of those improvements include installing new HVAC systems in some of the buildings, installing new floors or ceilings, and updating restrooms, kitchens and classrooms.

The cost for completing all tasks for the 15 schools is estimated to be approximately $88.8 million, which would be funded through a combination of state and local dollars.

“We previously set aside $1.2 million for razing of the buildings,” Johnson said. “I can’t find how those funds are allocated now. If so, where are they and when can we utilize those funds?”

Mike Barr, director of support services, explained that $3 million in special purpose local options sales tax revenue was allocated toward the five-year plan, and the plan outlines the priorities set by the evaluation team.

“If you’d like these funds re-directed, that’s up to you all. These are the priorities we set,” he said.

BOE Chairwoman Shakila Henderson-Baker told Johnson that it was her recollection that the board discussion at the time was that there would be money set aside to demolish the buildings if that’s what the board chose to do.

“I feel misled on this from two years ago,” Johnson responded, saying he remembered the board and the previous superintendent, Gary Mathews, agreeing to use funds for the demolition of the old schools. “I feel like we’re now rephrasing the situation and kicking the can down the street.”

Board member Almond Turner explained that the $1.2 million was available through SPLOST and could be used to tear down the buildings.

“There are other priorities and the board decided not to proceed at that time,” Turner said.

Superintendent Samantha Fuhrey said the systemwide evaluation of the NCSS grounds and facilities identified several areas of need, a list that was more extensive than anyone realized.

“We can use funds (for the demolition), but then that will mean we may not be able to replace an HVAC system at a school that needs it,” she said. “We made priorities of things that have not been done and need to be as opposed to knocking down two buildings that are not harming anyone at this time.”

The board voted to approve the five-year facilities plan with Johnson as the only dissenting vote.

The schools eligible for renovations, modifications and additions based on the facilities plans are:

• East Newton Elementary School

• Fairview Elementary School

• Heard-Mixon Elementary School

• Livingston Elementary School

• Mansfield Elementary School

• Middle Ridge Elementary School

• Oak Hill Elementary School

• Porterdale Elementary School

• Rocky Plains Elementary School

• West Newton Elementary School

• Clements Middle School

• Cousins Middle School

• Indian Creek Middle School

• Veterans Memorial Middle School

• Eastside High School