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Lagging growth gives Hall schools time to renovate

POSTED: January 16, 2014 11:52 p.m.

The economic downturn and sluggish growth of recent years haven’t been all bad news for the Hall County School District, allowing for some time to catch up on repairs and renovations to aging infrastructure.

“Buildings are being used for significantly different things than they were designed for,” Executive Director of Facilities Damon Gibbs said. “They weren’t designed for the technology that we’re bringing in today. Those that were built 10, 15 years ago, they were designed for traditional computer labs in a couple of rooms in the building.”

Now, Gibbs said, there’s a struggle to find the space for all of the laptops and tablets used for instruction.

Funding for the school building projects comes from the education special purpose local option sales tax, a 1 percent tax with proceeds used to fund capital outlay projects like new buildings, renovations, equipment and land.

“The law spells out that it has to be spent for capital projects, but they give us some leeway,” Deputy Superintendent Lee Lovett said. “In other words, in our last resolution under equipping new schools and equipping schools, we have included textbooks and library books. ... We have leeway to do technology.

“So this money helps the general fund, because if we didn’t have (SPLOST) we either wouldn’t have those things or we’d be buying them out of the general fund.”

The school system began drawing from E-SPLOST IV funds in November 2012, after a successful March 2011 vote. As of December 2013, $23.9 million has been received.

The projects aren’t exactly glamorous or easily viewable: Heating and air conditioning units have been the target of many upgrades. Roof repairs are another.

“We can spend $2 million, $3 million on a building during the summer and people walk in and cannot see anything that’s been done,” Gibbs said.

Heating and air conditioning units have been replaced at West Hall High, West Hall Middle, Tadmore Elementary and Spout Springs School of Enrichment. Kitchens at eight schools have had air conditioning installed; there are eight more to go, Gibbs said.

“I think you’d be hard-pressed to find a kitchen employee in one of the air-conditioned kitchens that would argue against the necessity of that,” he added.

Years ago, climate-controlled settings weren’t considered necessities, but a comfortable temperature setting has become expected in closed environments by adults and children alike. For example, some schools, such as Tadmore Elementary, which was originally built in 1957, have heating and air in the classrooms but not the hallways.

Other projects that have been completed include an expansion of the East Hall High School kitchen and cafeteria, along with the addition of four classrooms. Chestatee High School has a new weight room.

The most extensive project paid for with E-SPLOST funds is the renovation of the Academies of Discovery, 3215 Poplar Springs Road, Gainesville. The building is home to the Da Vinci Academy at South Hall Middle School and the upper grades of World Language Academy. The renovations and upgrades total a little more than $7 million.

Upcoming projects include roof repairs to Wauka Mountain Multiple Intelligences Academy, and the addition of air conditioning units in eight more kitchens.

Two significant projects are the renovations to the fine arts departments at East Hall and North Hall high schools. The schools are in the process of gathering input from students, parents and staff members now; plans likely won’t be in place until this summer.

“We’re talking about a year or so to be ready to break ground on those things,” Gibbs has said previously.

The E-SPLOST IV money runs through 2017; whether Hall County will ask the community to approve an E-SPLOST V is to be determined.

“It is very possible in my mind that before 2017 we’ll have to build a school in the south area (of the county),” Lovett said.


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