The Candler County Board of Education decided recently to put on hold plans for a new Kindergarten through 8th grade campus until voters get the chance to decide an ESPLOST referendum in November.
The board approved a referendum to be placed on the Nov. 2 General Election ballot to continue the Educational Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax (ESPLOST). If approved the monies from the penny tax would be used to combine three existing schools into one new K-8 campus. The new school would house grades PreK-5 in separate wings from 6-8.
Asst. Superintendent Bubba Longgrear discussed the plan’s early phases last week.
He said the Candler BOE owns a 35-acre tract of land adjacent to Metter High School, where the new school is projected to be built. The completion of the plan would then create one centrally-located campus for Metter schools, with a combined savings of $350,000 per year in operational costs, Longgrear said.
“The board proposes the use of State Capital Outlay Funds to cover approximately 40-45 percent of the cost, while general obligation bonds will fund the remaining 55-6 percent, which would be paid for with a 1-cent ESPLOST,” Longgrear said.
“The state funding would equal $9.8 million, while ESPLOST funding would be approximately $13.2 million, provided the legislation is approved again in January to continue the supply of capital outlay that has been earmarked for us,” he said.
Current elementary, intermediate, and middle school facilities are somewhat aged and limited in their ability to house the technology that students and teachers need, he said.
Metter Elementary School, PreK-3, was originally constructed in 1954 and renovated in 1993.
“Its electrical infrastructure is outdated, and the current classroom space is inadequate for the growing population,” Longgrear said.
The Intermediate School (4-5) and Middle School (6-8) campus was constructed in 1955 and renovated in 2005.
“The great thing about this project,” Longgrear said, “is that it would put us in a stable position with state-of-the-art facilities for the next 30-plus years, since the high school is still fairly new as well.”
He said it is the right time to begin such a large-scale project because construction costs are at a 10-year-low and interest rates on construction bonds are at an all-time low. A recent increase in student enrollment also provided additional state funding for this project.
The ambitious proposal does not come without challenges.
“One of the biggest concerns of the community,” Longgrear said, “is what will happen to the empty school buildings once vacated.”
He said that several local governmental agencies and non-profit organizations have shown strong interest in using them for office space or other purposes.
“We don’t want to see those buildings lie dormant either,” he said.
The board, along with their already-approved architect Buckley & Associates, projects a 30-month construction timetable, if all goes as planned, Longgrear said.